NEWS
02/24/2017 15:46 EST | Updated 02/25/2018 00:12 EST

Manitoba judges ask federal government to replace preliminary inquiries

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s attorney general and three chief justices are calling on the federal government to overhaul preliminary inquiry requirements in the province.

The letter was sent to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould late last year and asks for an amendment to the Criminal Code.

The letter proposes a four-year pilot project where preliminary hearings would be replaced with an out-of-court discovery process.

The letter is signed by Manitoba Attorney General Heather Stefanson; the province's chief justice, Richard Chartier; Glenn Royal, the chief justice of Court of Queen’s Bench; and Margaret Wiebe, chief judge of Manitoba's provincial courts.

The goal of the project would be to address the “unacceptable and unreasonable delays that currently exist in our criminal justice system."

Wilson-Raybould tells CTV News she is aware of the proposal and is willing to work with provinces to reduce delays, which may include reforms to preliminary inquiries, which are held to determine if there's enough evidence to warrant a trial.

In July 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled provincial court matters should not exceed 18 months from when charges are laid to the conclusion of a trial, and 30 months in superior court cases.

According to the letter, that ruling also encouraged “provincial legislatures and Parliament, (to take) a fresh look at rules, procedures and other areas of the criminal law to ensure that they are conducive to timely justice.”

However, not all lawyers are convinced getting rid of preliminary inquiries would speed up the court process.

Scott Newman of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association says they are opposed to the request.

He says the move was done without consultation from defence lawyers and may make backlog issues worse rather than better.

He also says it could increase the risk of wrongful convictions.

Wilson-Raybould says a committee — made up of members of the judiciary, senior federal and provincial justice officials, as well as members of the private bar — is studying the prevalence of use of preliminary inquiries in Canada and their actual impact on the trial system.

(CTV Winnipeg)