HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY - Judge John Joy tore a strip off justice system in Labrador today, Aug. 10, when he stayed the charges of a Postville man who had waited over four and a half years for a trial in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Supreme Court.
The case Joy presided over involved Davidee Allie Ningeok, who was charged in 2013 with sexual assault, assault and forcible confinement.
Joy said Ningeok was first arrested on Jan 11, 2013, for a crime alleged to have happened on Nov. 30, 2012. The trial ended on July 26, 2017, for a total of 54.5 months from arrest to end of trial.
Joy said the Crown has established some exceptional circumstances, such as weather delays and counsel illness but that it still far exceeded what the Supreme Court of Canada ruled is a reasonable period of time to go trial; currently 12-18 months under a ruling commonly known as the Jordan decision.
Since Ningeok’s case began in 2012 it was under the older presumptive ceiling for a reasonable period of time, which was 10-12 months. Joy said under either circumstance this case took far longer than reasonable.
“The principal reasons for the trial delay were court institutional delay arising from a significant change in circuit court scheduling,” he said.
He said changing from scheduled circuit courts to communities on the coast, such as Postville, and moving to an ad hoc court system created this problem.
Joy said judges, and possibly others in the justice system, warned the court administration of issues in the Labrador justice system.
He pointed out that prior to the change the Labrador judges, in conjunction with the court administration, would set a ‘significant number’ of weeklong circuit court sittings in communities such as Nain and Natuashish and clustered the smaller communities together.
The system changed in 2011 when the provincial court administration effectively took over the setting of the Labrador court schedule, eliminating some circuits in each coastal community. They also eliminated all the scheduled circuits to Rigolet, Makkovik and Postville and scheduled only ad hoc court sittings in those communities.
As a result, Joy said, the Labrador court schedule for 2013 and 2014 contained no fixed weeks where the court would sit in Rigolet, Postville or Makkovik. And that situation had a major impact on Ningeok’s case.
Ningeok applied for legal aid at his second court appearance, Joy said, and at his fourth appearance entered a not guilty plea. The case was then set over to find a date for trial.
The case ended up being set over five more times waiting on trial dates. Eventually, the first trial dates were set for June 24 and 25, 2014, 17 months after Ningeok was arrested
“I stated on the record on July 30, 2013, the day that Davidee Ningeok entered his not guilty plea, that the 2013-2014 court schedule did not include a fixed circuit for Postville, which necessarily implied that the court administration had a duty to establish a court circuit to that community for the purpose of this trial,” Joy said.
He said the defense was offered a single day for the trial in Postville and the court would be double booked, but that was not sufficient. In 2014 defense counsel told the court there had been various emails sent to the court administration regarding setting a date but had not heard anything back.
Joy said the frustration from all parties was evident.
“The main problem with this has been the fact that court administration has cut out all the fixed circuits and counsel are coming to court begging for trial dates. Certainly this brings the administration of justice into disrepute and I’m concerned about it,” he stated in court today, reading from his written decision.
He said if the practice that was used prior to 2012 had continued to be followed these delays would not have happened.
The trial did not go ahead in June of 2014 and was set over nine more times until it ended in July of 2017. These delays constituted a violation of the accused rights, Joy said.
As such, Ningeok free to leave the court today. A stay of proceedings means all legal process of the charges against him is suspended.
“At least two judges and both counsel have expressed on a number of occasions on the record their concerns about the failure of the court administration to provide the court a circuit during which this trial could proceed.”