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
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