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How long is too long of a delay to have your trial in traffic court?

In Canada, the court systems are split into two sections: Superior and Provincial courts.

When it comes to understanding traffic court, it is important to recognize that it falls under Provincial jurisdiction. It is not criminal and it is not generally a complex system.

Within the court system in Canada, there is an understanding that everyone has the right to a trial within a reasonable time. In fact, this is a rule under Section 11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This general rule on delay comes from a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada case, R. v. Jordan.

This case set time limits for trials, giving 18 months for cases tried in provincial courts, and 30 months for cases tried in Superior courts.

Delays that come from the defence are subtracted from the ceiling. So, for example, if the defence is requesting unnecessary postponements or an insufficient effort to accommodate the scheduling of court appearances, this is not included in the 18 months timeline, so an accused cannot slow the judicial process to their advantage.

What’s the presumptive ceiling in traffic court?

In BC, it’s typical for a person to have their traffic ticket trial between 6-9 months after they have been issued a ticket. Because these cases are usually fact-based, they shouldn’t take that long to get done.

Generally, 6-9 months is a reasonable timeline to expect when it comes to traffic tickets, and most people would not take issue with that. In a recent case that happened here in BC, R v. Sangha, however, the accused did take issue with the timeline of her case.

Here’s what happened. Sangha was issued a ticket for using an electronic device, and so she filed it in dispute and got a trial date within 95 days of receiving her ticket.

On the day of her trial, a lawyer appeared for on her behalf, and he told the court that he was retained the day before. He notified them that his client was seeking a Charter remedy for the delay in getting the trial on.

Everyone was confused, including the judicial justice, as it had only been 95 days from the date of the ticket to the date of the trial.

However, since in traffic court, the judicial justices do not have the authority or jurisdiction to grant this type of Charter remedy, the trial had to be adjourned.

What followed the adjournment was a failure by either the lawyer, Ms. Sangha or both of them, to do any of the steps laid out by the court to get the hearing started.

In the meantime, no trial on the merits of the case was scheduled.

Then when it looked like they were actually going to get the Charter hearing started, the court ran out of time.

Finally, after 17-months, the Charter application got a hearing on February 7, 2022 and the judge rendered a decision the same day.

What had started as a 95-day delay, had now been stretched to about 17 months.

The provincial judge ruled in favour of Ms. Sangha. They stated that since traffic court is not as serious as other cases, such as criminal court, it should have a 14-month presumptive ceiling.

The Crown appealed this decision to the BC Supreme Court.

They argued that this was a last-minute meritless application that derailed the trial of a routine traffic ticket which would have otherwise been heard within 95 days.

Ms. Sangha argued that the system was difficult for the general public to understand, even though she had a lawyer for a number of the appearances, and that there should be a presumptive ceiling between 12 and 18 months.

In this case, however, there was no evidence of a problem of generally getting traffic matters to trial, and the 95-days of the original trial demonstrates the very opposite of what Ms. Sangha was arguing. It also makes clear that there is no chronic problem within traffic court.

Is there really any reason to depart from the uniform approach of an 18- month ceiling?

Traffic court is comparable to any other court in the sense that some traffic tickets are simple, and some are complex. There have been times where we have run multi-day trials on a speeding ticket.

In the case of Ms. Sangha, the Supreme Court judge concluded that there were no grounds to create a 14-month ceiling and 18 months made sense both from a practical perspective and to maintain consistency.

They also concluded that Ms. Sangha did not take meaningful steps to get the case happening so there was no reason to apply a timeline shorter than the 18-month presumptive ceiling.

What is important to understand from this case is that the Jordan 18-month presumptive ceiling to get to a trial date applies within traffic court.

It is also important to realize that you will not be able to try and outsmart the legal system. If you are incapable of figuring out the complex steps to make a Charter argument, the delay you cause trying to figure it out will not be calculated in your favour in a delay argument.