Shortage of Trial Judges Leads to Uncertainty in the Prosecution of a Sexual Assault Case
KIJPUKTUK, NOVA SCOTIA (26 January 2023)
PATH Legal joins the call of legal activist and sexual assault survivor, Carrie Low, for the Nova Scotia government to prioritize the appointment of judges to fill vacancies at the Provincial Court level as trial dates continue to be adjourned.
Ms. Low first reported a violent sexual assault to the Halifax Regional Police (“HRP”) on May 19, 2018. Following months of apparent inaction, delays and mishandling of the file by the police, Ms. Low filed a complaint against the HRP with the Nova Scotia Police Complaints Commissioner in May 2019. In February 2020, a 33-year-old man was charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to Ms. Low's case, but the case ultimately came to an end in November 2021 when the accused was found dead.
In February 2022, a second man, Brent Alexander Julien, was charged in relation to Low's case, but it remains uncertain whether the trial will proceed due to the lack of an assigned trial judge. Despite the Provincial Government appointing three new judges to the Provincial Court in June 2022, there are still vacancies.
When asked about the uncertainty in the upcoming weeks, Ms. Low offered the following remarks:
I am exhausted and frustrated. I am heading into year five and am still being re-traumatized and harmed by the legal system that is supposed to protect victims and survivors like me. Now, a mere six weeks before trial is supposed to begin, the Crown informed me that “… we still don’t have a trial judge in place but we have set it over for a further status check on February 13th.”
The current judicial vacancies are not only affecting my case, but also so many others in Nova Scotia. To date, the Court has canceled all hearings for the month of January and half of February in the courtroom where my case is scheduled to be heard. The provincial government’s inaction in appointing provincial court judges is putting my life and so many others in Nova Scotia on hold and keeping us in limbo. The Minister of Justice and the Lieutenant Governor need to act now.
For Ms. Low, the lack of a trial judge assigned to her sexual assault case has ripple effects beyond just the criminal trial. The outcome of the criminal proceedings will impact her ongoing complaint against the HRP and her civil lawsuit against the HRP and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“RCMP”). Mukisa Kakembo, staff lawyer at PATH Legal and Ms. Low’s civil lawyer, commented:
The Canadian judicial system is held to a high standard and maintaining public faith in the administration of justice is crucial. When trial dates are scheduled, but no judges are available, it sends a message to the community and to complainants like Ms. Low, that justice is not a priority in certain cases.
The significant delays in bringing this case to court adds to Ms. Low’s distress. After waiting almost five years for her case to be heard, she is now facing an uncertainty that could continue for the foreseeable future. There needs to be a limit on the acceptable number and length of delays, and action must be taken to improve the efficiency of the court system.
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Co-Director of PATH Legal