Delay in traffic ticket trials: how long is too long

The idea that a Provincial Offences Court may dismiss a traffic ticket if the trial is delayed is fairly widely known, and this is, indeed, the case. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides for an individual’s right to be tried within a reasonable time. A traffic ticket, like any other charges under the Ontario Provincial Offences Act or the Criminal Code of Canada, can be dismissed by the court if there is a delay in bringing the charges to a final resolution at trial.

However, many people believe that the right to be tried within a reasonable time is absolute and can be relied on to dismiss a case whenever there is a particular period of delay between the time the traffic ticket is issued and the time of trial. This is not exactly the case: there are certain rules and limitations which apply to the consideration of whether there had been a delay that should lead to dismissal. Here are some:

  1. The court does not apply the right in question automatically, of its own imperative. The court will consider the delay only if and when an accused makes the appropriate request, supported by the necessary evidence and legal argument. This request should be done in the form of a formal written notice of motion, delivered to all interested parties and the court within the prescribed period of time before the day of trial. The court is not allowed to consider the delay unless such a formal motion is made.
  1. Courts consider the motion in a hearing before the trial starts, which requires the presentation of oral arguments by the defence and prosecution. The quality and validity of the oral arguments is just as important as a proper and well-prepared written notice of motion.
  1. The legislation and case law does not set any standard period of time which would secure a dismissal of the case. The time varies depending on the type and seriousness of the case and even on where the court is located. For example, a longer delay may be permissible in Toronto than in other, less busy courts. It is important to know what delay the courts in a certain area consider too long, based on a review of past cases.
  1. The reasons for the delay matter. The basic principle is that only “systemic” delay is taken into consideration by the court. For example, if a delay resulted from the accused’s own request to postpone the case for whatever personal reason, in most circumstances, such a delay may not be counted by the court.
  1. The time delay in bringing a case to trial is not the only condition which must be met before the traffic ticket is dismissed. An accused must show that the delay has caused substantial prejudice to him or her. Such prejudice must be proven in court with reliable and convincing evidence, as the court will not grant the motion if the delay in the proceedings has no prejudicial consequences for the accused.

If you feel that your traffic ticket case or any other case related to your city or municipality by-law, Dog Owners’ Liability Act, Fire Protection and Prevention Act, Day Nurseries Act or any other act of provincial legislation is taking too long to bring to trial, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free case assessment.

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