Auditor General of Ontario’s 2008 Annual Report: Court Backlogs Getting Worse and Tickets Have Dramatically Increased in the Ontario Cities of: Ottawa (155%), York (95%) and Toronto (78%).

Update:

2008 Annual Report of the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario:

The Auditor General Jim McCarter has released his December, 2008 Annual Report.  In it he states that in Ontario Court backlogs still exist and that the backlogs are the worst in the last fifteen years.

He also analyzed what has gone on in the Municipalities across Ontario, since power was transferred to them from the Province in Ontario in 1999 under the Provincial Offences Act and the Ontario Highway Traffic Act to issue certificates of offence (tickets) and to fine and collect fines from motorists.  He found that from 1999 to 2007 some cities (within different municipalities) appeared to be more overzealous than others (see figure 11 at bottom of page) and thought it could be associated with the ability to generate revenue for the particular Municipalities involved:

1999 to 2007 (top 4) :

Ottawa:  Tickets are Up 155%

York:      Tickets are Up   95%

Toronto: Tickets are Up 78%

Durham: Tickets are Up 50%

Court Backlogs getting Worse: Auditor General

(TORONTO) Despite major funding increases over the last five years aimed at reducing the backlog
in Ontario courts, backlogs have continued to grow and now stand at their highest level in 15 years, Ontario’s Auditor General Jim McCarter says in his 2008 Annual Report, released today.
“These backlogs can have serious ramifications,” McCarter said. “Defendants can take advantage of delays to argue their cases should be dismissed; witnesses’ memories can fade; and long delays are unfair to accused persons, who deserve to have criminal charges resolved in a reasonable period of time.”
The increased backlog was identified in a value-for-money audit of the Court Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General, which spent $400 million in the 2007/08 fiscal year. The Auditor General had warned in his reports of 1997 and 2003 that court backlogs were growing, particularly for criminal cases. In response, the Ministry took a variety of measures to address the problem and increased spending by $100 million over the past five years to reduce the backlogs. But the backlogs have continued to grow.

The Report noted that:

  • Over the last five years, the court system has had to cope with a growing number of criminal charges. In the Ontario Court of Justice, the number of charges grew by 17% to more than 275,000.
  • In 1992, the Supreme Court of Canada provided a guideline of eight to 10 months as a reasonable period within which a case should go to trial—some cases awaiting trial for a longer period risk being   dismissed. Compared to five years ago, there are 16% more such cases where criminal charges were laid eight or more months ago and are still before the courts.
  • The backlog is caused in large part because the average number of court appearances to dispose of a case has increased to 9.2 from 7.3 in 2002 and 5.9 in 1997.
  • To be on par with other provinces, Ontario would have to hire a significant number of new judges and justices of the peace and provide more support staff.

2008 Annual Report of the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario See Chapter 3 – VFM Section 3.07 – Page 230

As of February 2002, the government had transferred to municipalities responsibility for the administration
and prosecution of most charges that fall under the Provincial Offences Act, including Highway Traffic Act offences.

Oversight of Municipally Administered Courts

(Found under “Court Services” Chapter 3 – VFM Section 3.07, Pages 227 – 229 inclusive)

As mentioned above, in 1999 the government started to transfer to 52 participating municipalities the responsibility for the administration and prosecution of most charges that fall under the Provincial Offences Act (POA), including the collection and retention of fines for these charges. Most of the fines transferred were for offences committed under the Highway Traffic Act, which falls under the POA. Since the responsibility was transferred, municipalities have been required to pay the costs for administering courts, prosecutions, and the collectionof fines, and to reimburse the province for its associated costs, including the cost of justices of the peace who preside over municipally administered courts, and the cost of the municipalities’ use of the ICON system for tracking offences and payments.

Under transfer agreements established with these municipalities, the Ministry sets performance standards for the conduct of prosecutions, for the administration of the courts, and for the provision of court support services.

In general, we found that the Ministry had established adequate procedures and standards for municipal delivery of court services and for monitoring municipalities’ compliance with these standards. Controls included ministry audits and regular reporting by municipalities. For instance, over the last four years, the Ministry conducted audits of financial and operational practices at about 70% of the municipalities that administer courts.

In late 2004, the Ministry established a committeewith provincial, municipal, and judicial representatives to discuss issues related to municipally administered courts. We noted that the committee had discussed several issues related to improving support for the municipalities’ court operations, as follows:

  • In 2002, the province transferred to municipalities the right to collect $485 million in fines that were uncollected by the Ministry at that time, most of which had been outstanding for several years. Since then, the amount of uncollected fines has grown: for example, in 2007, municipalities imposed fines totalling $289  million and collected approximately $215 million. By December 2007, the total fines owed to municipalities had grown to more than $900 million. Municipal courts can only apply enforcement measures authorized by the Ministry.

These measures include the use of collection agencies and, in the case of unpaid Highway Traffic Act fines — which represent about 75% of all unpaid fines—driver’s licence suspensions or the denial of vehicle plate renewals. Municipalities complain that stronger enforcement measures are neededto collect fines that are in default. We understand that for the Ministry to authorize further measures, it may require legislative changes and co-operation with other ministries, such as the Ministry of Transportation.

  • Backlogs at municipally administered courts have resulted from the increase in the number of charges laid by municipalities and the lack of enough justices of the peace available to handle the increase. From 2005 to the end of 2007, pending charges grew by 34%—to over 380,000. In 2007, the Ministry increased the number of justices of the peace by 45 full-timeand 28 part-time positions and converted 19 non-presiding justices of the peace to full-time presiding positions. This has subsequently helped to reduce the backlog. However, municipalities informed us that the Ministry’s failure to address the problem earlier has had significant ramifications.  Municipal representatives told us that they had to close courtrooms and dismiss charges because of insufficient judicial resources to handle cases within a timely period. For example, one municipality indicated that close to 40% of available trial time was lost in 2007, primarily because there were not enough justices of the peace. Another municipality estimated that it dropped about 10,000 charges in 2006 and another 2,900 in 2007, with potential lost revenue of almost $700,000.

In addition, we found that the Ministry’s oversight role with respect to municipally administered courts was limited to municipal delivery of court services and related financial and operational matters. However, the Ministry’s oversight did not include consideration of overall policy implications, such as what the impact of allowing municipalities to retain fines levied under the Highway Traffic Act and other POA offences had been. We found, for instance, that charges issued by most municipalities had increased significantly after municipalities assumed responsibility for the administration and prosecution of most charges that fall under the POA.  In particular, we compared the number of POA charges imposed by each participating municipality, both before and  after the transfer agreements were established, with the number of charges issued by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to determine if the introduction of new revenue-generating powers might have influenced municipalities’ charging practices.

As Figure 11 shows, there were significant increases in the charging practices of certain municipalities.
Some municipalities increased charges by over 100% whereas others had virtually no increase. Overall, municipal  charges under the POA increased by 57%. By way of comparison, OPP charges under the POA increased by only 20% during the same period. Overall fines imposed by municipalities across the province increased 32%, from $219  million in 1999 to $289 million in 2007. At the time of our audit, the Ministry had not formally analyzed whether its policy decision had resulted in significant changes to municipal charging practices.

Figure 11: Comparison of Charges Laid by Municipalities* and the OPP under the Provincial Offences Act,
1999 and 2007 Source of data: Ministry of the Attorney General

City19992007%  Increase
City of Toronto38175668029778
Regional Municipality of York7136013892295
City of Ottawa49715126794155
City of Brampton530387302238
City of Mississauga60870617882
City of Hamilton397115646042
Regional Municipality of Durham362115416650
Regional Municipality of Waterloo408895159626
all other municipalities28285535752626
Total – Municipalities*1016405160057157
OPP – Province-wide42818251594020
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