R. v. K.J.M. 2019 SCC 55

Timeliness in youth trials is as important as in adult trials, and the time limit established for adult trials shall apply to youth trials.

KJM, a 15 years old appellant and the accused, was charged for stabbing another youth with a box cutter under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, S.C. 2002, c. 1 (YCJA). Undertrial, he applied for a stay of the proceedings claiming that his right to be tried within a reasonable time was violated, granted under s.11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. Soon after the filing of stay application, on November 9, 2016, he was found guilty of possession of a dangerous weapon and aggravated assault.

The two significant issues in the present case were whether the Jordon ceilings apply to youth trials? And whether in this case, there was an unreasonable delay?

In R. v. Jordan, [2016] 1 S.C.R. 631, the presumptive limit for delays in the trial replaced the guidelines established under R. v. Askov, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 1199, and R. v. Morin, [1992] 1 S.C.R. 771. Thus, delay beyond the presumptive ceiling was assumed to be unreasonable. In single-stage provincial court proceedings, a ceiling of 18 months was laid down to be reasonable, and under proceedings conducted by a superior court, 30 months was accepted. These limits however were prescribed excluding the delays caused by the defendant because it was assumed that defendants might consider this an opportunity for their clients.

The SC held that there are at least five reasons why the right to timely trial has a special significance for youth – Firstly, it can reinforce the connection between action and consequences. Secondly, it can reduce psychological harm to youth persons. Thirdly, delays can fade the memory and infringe the right to make proper defence and answer. Fourthly, he may sense unfairness when he would be given punishment for an offence committed in an ancient past of her life. Fifthly, the societal interest of rehabilitating youth is of paramount importance for which the trials should be held within a reasonable time.

A number of judges opined that legislatively, a new lowered ceiling, especially for youth, is required as it was not dealt with in Jordan. However, it was held by the majority that Jordan ceilings apply to youth as well and it is neither warranted nor necessary to form a new set of ceilings to accommodate the distinct characteristics of young accused under the youth criminal justice system.

Further, this was one of the first cases where the test of below ceiling was applied where if the total delay (minus the delay caused by the defence and exceptional circumstances delay) is lower than the presumptive ceiling, the onus is on the defence to prove that such delay was unreasonable, as formulated in Jordan. The delay of 19 months in the present case came down after subtracting 3-4 months of delay by the defence and exceptional circumstances such that it was below the presumptive ceiling of Jordan. To establish delay, the defence has to prove that it took reasonable steps to speed up the process, and the case took markedly longer than it should have. However, in the present case, the defendants were unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the delay was unreasonable, and therefore since the delay was within the Jordan ceiling, the majority dismissed the appeal. The majority also held that the delays caused due to external court dealings of youth, including community service or counselling, shall not be added to Jordan ceilings.