In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
Phone Call Court in Quebec

Need a judge? Try a jail 'cell' call
Sat, 13 Dec 2003
CBC News Online staff

QUEBEC CITY - In Quebec City, people arrested on the weekends are now able to make their first "appearance" before a judge – over the telephone.

The provincial government says allowing arraignments by conference call is more efficient than actually appearing in person before a judge.

Under the new system, a detainee enters a plea over the phone, with their lawyer, a Crown prosecutor, and a justice of the peace on the line.

Yvon Corriveau, the director of specialized tribunals at the Quebec City Court House, says the change is intended to speed up the legal process.

Under the Criminal Code, a person charged should appear before a judge within 24 hours of their arrest. But on weekends and holidays, this often doesn't happen.

" If somebody has to wait 15 to 20 hours in a cell before being brought before a justice of the peace, it could be construed as unreasonable delays," says Michel Breton, the chief Crown attorney for the justice department.

Breton says during a pilot program in smaller communities, 40 per cent of detainees were released immediately with an order to appear in court later, instead of spending the weekend in jail.

Quebec City is the first major urban centre to implement the system; Montreal is expected to follow in the spring.

But critics say arraignment by conference call does not service justice. Reynald Beaudry, a criminal lawyer in Quebec City, says saving money is the only reason for the program.

Telephone arraignments limit prisoners' choice of counsel, he says, because not all defence lawyers are available on the weekends.

He also says the conference call system may interfere with the public nature of the legal process. A more viable option, Beaudry says, would be to open courthouses seven days a weekaff