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NEWS

New report reveals extent of pre-trial detention in Canada

editor - August 1, 2014

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has released a new report which considers the use of pre-trial detention in the country. The report, Set Up to Fail: Bail and the Revolving Door of Pre-trial Detention, comes not long after the latest World Pre-trial/Remand Imprisonment List was published, which revealed that there are currently approximately 3 million people in pre-trial detention across the globe, with 35% of Canada’s prison population still awaiting trial. Set up to Fail found that the majority of people detained in provincial and territorial jails are legally innocent.

The CCLA report goes beyond the numbers, considering the human impact that pre-trial detention can have on an individual. It is often the case that people in pre-trial detention are given little or no warning, and have little indication into how long their incarceration will last. The conditions facing pre-trial detainees, and an aspect often forgotten, was considered by the Supreme Court of Canada, who stated in R v Hall, 2002 SCC 64 that “an accused placed in remand is often subjected to the worst aspects of our correctional system by being detained in dilapidated, overcrowded cells without access to recreational or educational programs.”

The CCLA make a series of recommendations in their conclusions, including reinstating the presumption of unconditional release and innocence throughout the bail system. Fair Trials has seen elsewhere that in some jurisdictions, detention has become the norm, with judges treating review hearings as a rubber-stamping exercise, rather than a genuine reassessment of the need for detention with the opportunity to present arguments in favour of release.

Other recommendations included:

    • Improving the efficiency of the bail process; drastically reducing reliance on sureties in the few jurisdictions requiring them; ensuring conditions on release are lawful, necessary, and achievable;
    • Experienced Crowns and duty counsel should be assigned to bail court. Rotating counsel should be avoided to promote work-group consistency, encourage case ownership and preserve institutional knowledge;
    • Limiting custodial responses for breaches of conditions; and
    • Crown policy manuals should be revised to emphasize the presumption of unsupervised release for low-risk accused.

Fair Trials has recently launched its own research project on pre-trial detention, examining the use of the practice across the EU. Working with partners from a number of EU member states, the project seeks to gather data on their local PTD decision-making process and the use of alternatives through in-depth surveys of defence practitioners, monitoring detention hearings, reviewing case files, and interviewing prosecutors and judges. The research will be used to produce both country-specific and ultimately regional reports on local use of PTD comparing local practice with international standards and domestic law.

It’s hoped that the research project will inform the development of future initiatives aiming to reduce the unnecessary use of PTD within the EU. The project will provide a unique knowledge-base of PTD practices in different Member States  and transferable examples of best practice. It will be interesting to compare the findings of this EU based report with those of the CCLA.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on 020 7822 2370 or 07950 849 851.

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If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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