Higher jail terms for unpaid fines, phone-in requests for provincial warrants, and “e-tickets” for leadfooted motorists are part of a package of proposed changes for Saskatchewan’s legal system.
The provincial government has introduced amendments to the Summary Offences Procedure Act.
“The bill is part of a larger effort to streamline our provincial justice system and hold people accountable for their actions,” Justice Minister Don Morgan said in a news release.
One amendment would boost the limits on jail terms for unpaid fines to two years less a day from 90 days.
“It’s a discretion … Hopefully, it’s the last resort,” Ken Acton, assistant deputy minister for courts and civil justice, said in an interview Friday. Acton said options to avoid jail will remain, such as working off fines or applying for a payment system. But he said the current law doesn’t allow for jail terms on unpaid fines beyond 90 days – regardless of the amount owed.
The bill will also give judges the discretion to enter a conviction by default on a provincial offence if an accused fails to appear for trial. Currently, if an offender doesn’t make the voluntary payment fine, for example on a speeding ticket, and instead opts to plead not guilty and go to trial but doesn’t show up – the judge is required to run the trial anyway. Under the proposed change, a judge could find the noshow guilty by default without the trial.
However, Acton noted an offender found guilty by default could, within 15 days of notice of the conviction, appear before a court and seek to set the ruling aside.
“But you can’t use the, ‘I’m going to come and plead not guilty’ simply as a means of delaying things,” he said.
The proposal also includes provisions for electronic tickets for provincial offences, much like the system used in Regina for parking tickets. For example, an officer issuing a traffic ticket would swipe the driver’s licence on an electronic reader – instead of handwriting it – then key in additional information, such as the charge and details. It would then be uploaded to a computer system and the accused receive a printout of the charge. At present, the handwritten tickets have to be manually entered into a data system at the police station, then the ticket is mailed to the fine collection branch to enter it into a justice system database. It would eliminate some of the steps and also cut down on illegible tickets. “It’s clear and we’ll only enter it once,” said Acton, noting some forces in Ontario and Quebec are using e-tickets.
If the amendments are passed, the province plans for the Regina Police Service to launch an e-ticket pilot project late next year. “It’s definitely something we’re interested in exploring and discussing,” spokeswoman Lara Guzik said.
Acton said it could be some time before e-tickets replace handwritten ones on a larger scale.
The final change would give police the ability to obtain a warrant on provincial offences by telephone – bringing it in line with the current federal law for criminal offences. “It’s not used very often,” said Acton, explaining the law applies to such matters as public health warrants or seizing animals in distress. For officers in remote rural or northern points, it can be difficult to appear before a justice of peace to obtain a warrant, he added.
See the Press Release from the Saskatchewan Provincial Government:
AMENDMENTS TO CUT POLICE PAPERWORK, STREAMLINE WARRANT APPLICATIONS
The Government of Saskatchewan today introduced legislative amendments that will cut the paperwork for police issuing tickets and make it easier for police to apply for a warrant, particularly in remote areas.
The Summary Offences Procedure Amendment Act, 2011 authorizes the use of an electronic ticketing system and increases the limit on jail terms for unpaid fines from 90 days to two years less a day. This Bill also grants judges the discretion to enter a default conviction when a defendant fails to appear for trial, regardless of whether that defendant earlier confirmed an appearance.
“This Bill is part of a larger effort to streamline our provincial justice system and hold people accountable for their actions,” Justice Minister and Attorney General Don Morgan said. “It is also a great example of how Saskatchewan can use new technology to decrease the amount of paperwork expected from police so they are able to spend more time on the streets.”
The current process for handling summary offences includes handwritten tickets and involves a number of steps. Electronic ticketing systems have been successfully adopted by other Canadian police services.
The Bill also includes amendments that will allow peace officers to apply for warrants and have them issued over the phone. This will speed up the process for obtaining warrants, particularly in rural and northern areas where the distance between communities presents a challenge. In the past, peace officers had to appear before a Justice of the Peace to get a warrant.