In R. v. Morin, the Supreme Court of Canada revisited the test for unreasonable delay set out in R. v. Askov, putting an increased emphasis on the presence or absence of prejudice, and putting a greater onus on the accused to prove that prejudice has occurred.
The accused in this case, Darlene Morin, was charged with impaired driving in January 1988, and not brought to trial until March 1989, a full fourteen months later, a prima facie case of unreasonable delay according to the principles set out in Askov.
The Supreme Court in Morin, however, put more emphasis on the institutional circumstances, and held that the accused had not proven that the fourteen-month delay had led to prejudice against her.
Morin can be read as a signal from the Supreme Court that circumstances other than the mere length of delay would be taken into account in future Askov applications, and that a certain onus lies on the accused to prove that the delay in question has adversely affected them in order to tip the balance in favour of a judicial stay of proceedings:
“An accused person may suffer little or no prejudice as a consequence of a delay beyond the expected and normal. Indeed, an accused may welcome the delay. On the other hand, an accused person can suffer great prejudice because of the delay. Where the accused suffers little or no prejudice, it is clear that the consistently important interest of bringing those charged with criminal offences to trial outweighs the accused’s and society’s interest in obtaining a stay of proceedings on account of delay, because the consequences of the delay are not great. On the other hand, where the accused has suffered clear prejudice which cannot be otherwise remedied, the balance may tip in the accused’s favour and justice may require a stay.”
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