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Cost of Justice Climbs as Crime Rates Fall

telegraph

We’ve written recently in this blog about two consistent and widely accepted truths of Canada’s justice system.

First, in “Why is Canada’s Crime Rate Falling” we noted that in 2012 the national crime rate fell for the 11th consecutive year.

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Second, in “Clogged Courts Interfere With the Delivery of Justice in Canada”, we pointed out that, for a variety of reasons, Canadian courts have been suffering costly backlogs for the last 25 years.

When you put the two facts together, you get a situation that doesn’t seem to make any sense. Crime rates are falling, but the cost of enforcing the law is increasing. And the rates at which one falls as the other rises bend the logic even further, with justice costs rising 30% faster than crime rates fell over the past 10 years.

How Can it Cost More to Deal with a Problem that Happens Less?

The disparity between the two rates was the subject of a recent study by the Fraser Institute. Among other causes, the study’s authors put a large part of the blame on the Supreme Court of Canada.

Citing three cases where the Supreme Court respectively supported the rights of the accused to a state-funded lawyer, a speedy trial and full disclosure of Crown evidence, the authors point out that conviction costs increase significantly due to the precedents set by the decisions.

The study laments the lack of useful information about the Canadian court system to help improve their effectiveness. The authors point out that “the cost per conviction has risen sharply as a result of court reinterpretation of police and prosecutorial practices even without changes by Parliament to the law”. They add that “we have no systemic way of assessing whether the courts are getting more or less effective in dealing with the cases that they see, let alone understanding how much as a society we are paying. For a developed nation, this is disappointing to say the least.”

Among the other findings of the study:

  • Over 15 years, the proportion of criminal cases taking more than a year to complete increased more than 100%
  • In the same time period, the proportion of homicide cases taking more than a year to complete increased 400%
  • The cost of crime reported to police increased 62% between 2002 and 2012
  • Crime costs account for over five percent of Canada’s gross national product

Source: The National Post