Issue of access to justice a major flaw in courthouse scheme

By Staff

Planned courthouse assignments for the Toronto area could prevent those charged with offences from getting a timely release on bail, restricting access to justice and clogging the court system, Toronto criminal lawyer Roots Gadhia tells

Gadhia, principal of R. Roots Gadhia Criminal Defence Law, says while the Ontario government is in the planning stage for a new mega-courthouse on Armoury Street, by Toronto City Hall, her biggest concerns are reserved for the existing facility at 2201 Finch Ave. W., which will handle all of the city’s bail hearings once the new justice building opens.

“If, for example, you live near the edge of the Scarborough and Pickering border, and your son or daughter were arrested, chances are that by the time you get the call at 8:30 in the morning, or possibly later, that your child is in jail and needs someone to come to the courthouse at 2201 Finch to bail them out, it’s too late,” she says.

“Ninety per cent of the population is not going to have enough time to trek across the city using multiple modes of transit to make it to that courthouse in time.”

Gadhia says, as a result, individuals facing charges would remain in custody for an additional day, awaiting a bail hearing.

“What it really affects is access to justice because parents, spouses, children, whoever is coming to sign bail for you, is now stuck in a system where there is not going to be enough courtrooms, not enough space, nor enough people working to get the bail hearings done,” she says.

“Justices of the peace (JPs) are simply not going to hold the matters down. Imagine duty counsel walking into court and saying, ‘I’ve spoken to the mother this morning. She lives near Warden and Eglinton, and says it will be about two hours to get here by transit. Can we hold the matter down?’ With another 100 people on the bail hearing list, there is no way JPs will agree. So, it gets held over until the next day.”

Gadhia says simple math indicates the plan doesn’t add up given that there are between 20-30 bail hearings held daily at each of the five Toronto-area courthouses. “When you consider all those courts are being amalgamated, you have to make allowances for 100-150 new arrests being dealt with every day at the 2201 Finch courthouse,” Gadhia says.

“And every night people are being held over because families can’t get there in time to post bail. That same group of people goes over to the following day when the next group of 100 appears. It’s a nightmare,” she says.

Tentatively scheduled for completion in 2021, the $1-billion courthouse near University Avenue and Queen Street West is meant to consolidate most of the city’s criminal courts, including the dedicated youth court, currently housed at 311 Jarvis St.

Gadhia says it might be prudent to allow space for bail hearings to be held there should a backlog occur.

Failing that, she says it may become necessary for the Finch Avenue and Highway 400 courthouse to remain open longer each day to deal with the backlog of cases — possibly creating a night court scenario.

Additionally, Gadhia suggests police and Crown attorneys may have to exercise more discretion to allow charged individuals to be released immediately on consent “from either the station or the courthouse rather than wait for a surety to show up.”

The alternative, she says, is a clogged court system that limits access to justice.

“What we’re talking about here is the quintessential guiding principle in the criminal justice system,” Gadhia says. “When you deny access to a courthouse for the family members or friends, you are negating that basic premise. We need to make sure we resolve this.”

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