Impaired case tossed due to trial delay

Judge says drunk driving cases 'double and triple booked' in Surrey.

A B.C. judge has kicked out a case against an alleged drunk driver in Surrey because it took too long to get the case to trial.

A woman was charged in 2009 with one count of impaired driving and one count of operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol level exceeding the legal limit.

Though the offense took place Oct. 12, 2009, her first trial date wasn’t until May 9 of this year. It was then that the accused requested a stay of proceedings, arguing her right to be tried within a reasonable time had been violated.

In her reasons for judgement last month, Surrey Provincial Court Judge Rose Raven said that the 14-and-a-half month delay in the case caused the woman to suffer “significant worry, anxiety, and embarrassment as a result of the charges she is facing, which has been significantly exacerbated by the delay in the trial.”

Raven said the woman would suffer even more financial and emotional hardship now that her husband has had to move for work purposes. Not only would she have less help caring for their 13-year-old daughter, but the potential loss of the accused’s driver’s licence would also have a severe impact, said the judge.

In her reasons, Raven referred to numerous other impaired driving cases in Surrey that have been tossed due to trial delays.

One involved a gap between offense and trial of 18 months. The judge in that matter called Surrey court the “problem child” due to the longer delays it faces compared other areas of the Lower Mainland and B.C.

In two other impaired cases referred to, both with 13-month delays, Judge Peder Gulbransen stated the lag time was caused by the reduction in the number of court days available to handle criminal cases in the past five years, the decrease in the number of “judge days” due to a lack of replacements and new judge appointments, and reductions in court staff and sheriffs.

Gulbransen said provincial courts cannot expect to be immune from budget cuts.

“But, the Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that the time will come when the courts can no longer accommodate an explanation for lengthy institutional delay that there is just no money for the court system,” he said. “In Surrey, that time has come.”

In her written decision on the woman’s case, Judge Raven agreed the number of applications for a stay of proceedings “continue to abound” in Surrey, particularly for impaired driving charges.

“It is not unusual for impaired driving trials to be double and triple booked in Surrey Courts with the result that there is a probability one or more of the trials will have to be adjourned, causing further institutional delay,” said Raven.

sreynolds@surreyleader.com