Minister of Justice Simon Jolin-Barrette and Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec Lucie Rondeau are burying the hatchet over the reform of the judges’ schedule. To resolve the impasse, Quebec is creating 14 new judicial positions, while the Court of Quebec is committed to sitting longer and respecting certain targets.
A compromise “. This word comes up four times in the first paragraph of the agreement made public Friday afternoon. This agreement, in effect until December 2015, is the result of four months of negotiations led by the facilitator Jacques Chamberland, appointed last January by the parties.
It must be said that for months, the positions of the Legault government and the Court of Quebec were poles apart in this heated and very public conflict between the Minister of Justice and Chief Justice Rondeau. Minister Jolin-Barrette even fought before the Court of Appeal to overturn the decision of the Chief Justice. Quebec feared that the Rondeau reform would lead to an “avalanche” of halts in the judicial process due to unreasonable delays.
At the heart of the conflict: the “reorganization” of the work schedule of judges introduced by the Court of Quebec, without consulting the government. Concretely, since September 2022, the judges of the criminal and penal division hear fewer cases in the courtroom to have more time to deliberate. The judges sit every other day (ratio 1/1), whereas they previously sat for two days and deliberated on the third day (ratio 2/1).
To compensate for the loss of thousands of hearing days per year, Chief Justice Rondeau demanded the addition of 41 judges, which Quebec firmly refused. But as part of this “compromise”, Quebec throws ballast and undertakes to appoint this year 14 new judges to the criminal and penal division.
In return, the judges of the Criminal and Penal Division will have to sit 17 more days per judicial year, whereas they have been sitting 104 days per year since September 2022. In a way, the ratio of days sat by the judges is therefore between 1/1 and 2/1.
To end the conflict, the Court of Quebec made other concessions. In fact, the judiciary undertakes to achieve three new targets at the end of the agreement, including that of significantly reducing the median time for closing cases. Currently, a criminal case stretches for about 300 days, which is 50% longer than in 2018-2019. Under the agreement, this period is to be increased to 212 days.
The judiciary and the Ministry of Justice also want to increase the “closure rate” of files from 0.91 to 1.10. In practice, this means that at the end of the agreement, there will have to be more criminal files that will end than files that will be opened.
Final target: 87.7% of criminal cases must be completed within the 18 or 30 month caps set by the Supreme Court in Jordan on reasonable time.
A quarterly follow-up will be carried out by Québec and the Court of Québec to assess the impact of the measures and the progress of the targets. In the meantime, Quebec intends to ensure that reliable statistics are available on several key indicators. Thus, any “significant” deviation from the objectives will be highlighted.
We will have to see in the coming months the impact of this agreement on the ground. This spring, at the Montreal courthouse, the deadlines for setting a trial of a few days were still around 14 months, or even more, at the Court of Quebec. Such delays risk leading to stays of proceedings, since the Jordan decision puts an 18-month ceiling on most cases.