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Helping New Brunswickers Know the Law

What's New

September 27, 2011

New “Mega-Trials” Legislation

The Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act also known as the “Mega-trials” legislation has come into force, or has become part of Canadian criminal law, as of August 15th, 2011. This legislation will help with “mega-trials”, large or complex cases involving illegal activities like drug-trafficking, terrorism or organized crime, and make sure they come to court more efficiently than in the past.

“Mega-trials” are difficult to deal with in the court system because they usually involve a series of charges against multiple individuals, many witnesses, a lot of evidence, and can involve excessive delays which increase the likelihood of mistrials. A clear example happened in the case of Auclair c. R., 2011 QCCS 2661 where a Quebec Superior Court judge ordered that 31 of the accused persons be released due to the inability of the court system to handle their case efficiently.

The Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act amends the Criminal Code of Canada by allowing for:

• A case management judge to help with the preliminary stage of a trial by making decisions on preliminary issues such as imposing deadlines on the parties, hearing guilty pleas, assisting the parties to identify issues with evidence and assisting the parties to identify the witnesses to be heard.

• A reduction in the number of processes needed prior to trial by holding hearings prior to dealing with multiple accused and charges where appropriate. For example, one judge may now make decisions on preliminary issues pertaining to more than one accused or multiple charges in cases involving similar evidence and witnesses before ordering separate trials for the individuals involved. This will help prevent unnecessary duplication.

• Measures to better protect the identity of jurors so that they can better perform their duties.

Another amendment will come into force on October 24, 2011 allowing for the swearing of up 14 jurors. Previously, the Criminal Code allowed for only 12 jurors.  In especially long trials, it was not uncommon for jurors to be discharged before a trial was over. If the number of jurors fell below 10, which is the minimum number required by law, there would be a new trial. The increase in the number of jurors will help prevent this from happening.  If there are more than 12 jurors remaining after the judge’s charge to the jury, there will be a random selection process to select which jurors will decide the verdict.