Editorial: Dithering JP should speed things up

The courts are busy, but does it really to take a year to decide whether to accept a guilty plea over a traffic charge?

That was the issue in this month’s ruling in Regional Municipality of York v. Newhook, a case involving unrelated charges of speeding offences against five people. In September, the prosecution and defence made a joint submission for a resolution in which four of the defendants would plead guilty to an amended charge of disobey sign with a fine of $200. In the fifth case, the fine would be $85.

In the case of defendant Adam Newhook, justice of the peace Adele Romagnoli accepted the guilty plea but reserved her decision on sentence until June 2016. With the remaining defendants, she put off deciding whether to accept the guilty pleas until August 2016.

In the meantime, the case came back to court with the prosecution seeking an order for mandamus directing Romagnoli to speed things up. In considering the issue, Ontario Superior Court Justice Mark Edwards had little sympathy for the need for the delay. “Recognizing the volume of cases in the Provincial Offences Court and the stresses that go with presiding in the Provincial Offences Court there will always be occasions where a justice of the peace needs to reserve his or her decision on sentence. This was not one of those cases,” he wrote.

“There was no reason in law why Her Worship, Justice of the Peace Romagnoli, should reject the guilty plea that was being proposed by the prosecutor and the defence. Even if there was some legal basis in law for Her Worship to consider the appropriateness of the guilty plea, I can see no reason why it should take nearly a year for Her Worship to consider whether the guilty pleas should be accepted,” he added, citing the need for timely decisions on both sentence and plea. As a result, he issued an order of mandamus requiring her to accept the guilty pleas within 30 days and render her decisions on sentence at the same time.

If it takes more than a year to rule on a simple traffic charge, the courts truly are in trouble. It’s more likely, however, that Romagnoli is simply taking too long. As Edwards noted, in fact, a number of recent decisions have taken her to task for not giving effect to joint submissions. She may have legitimate concerns, but that’s no justification for dithering on the issue and failing in her duty to deliver timely decisions and abide by the courts’ expectations around joint submissions.

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