Ontario’s Justice on Target strategy has been recognized with the top 2010 IPAC/Deloitte Public Sector Leadership Award. This award acknowledges the innovative work underway at the Ministry of the Attorney General and justice participants such as the judiciary, police, defence counsel and others to address criminal court delay.
Justice on Target takes a unique and bold approach to an issue that has challenged the criminal justice system for nearly 20 years by engaging local leaders in courts and setting a four-year target to reduce by 30 percent both the number of days and the number of appearances needed to complete a criminal case.
The strategy brings together a diverse group of justice participants and, while safeguarding the integrity of the system and the constitutionally protected independence of these participants, helps them find solutions to criminal court delay at the local level.
Attorney General Chris Bentley launched the strategy in June of 2008 and says, “Today, exciting and innovative work is underway in every criminal court across Ontario to change the system from within.” And, he points to progress. “For the first time in nearly two decades the average number of appearances needed to complete a criminal charge is going down, not up.”
Ontario’s Deputy Attorney General Murray Segal says, “In my more than 30 years working in the justice system, I can tell you that we have never before attempted anything like the Justice on Target strategy. We have brought together people who normally sit on opposite sides of the bench – and opposite sides of the courtroom. We’ve brought constitutionally independent justice participants to the same table and have asked them to work together to find solutions.”
Justice on Target was pleased to be nominated with numerous other applicants from across Canada to win gold in the IPAC/Deloitte Leadership Award Federal/Provincial/Territorial category. Submissions were judged by a jury of independent experts, which included Ontario Secretary of the Cabinet Shelly Jamieson, deputy ministers from both the federal and provincial public service and past winners.
At a ceremony on November 4, 2010, described as “the Oscars of public service,” Jamieson spoke of the meaning of leadership and pointed to the need to be nimble. “People’s needs are changing and the public service needs to keep up. Tinkering is not an option. We must be catalysts of change.”
“This describes Justice on Target well,” says Justice Bruce Durno, the external lead of the strategy. “The award is a tribute to the change taking place on the ground in local criminal courts across Ontario.”
“Local teams are accountable for implementing change on the ground,” says the strategy’s director and Ministry lead, Ken Anthony. “The central Justice on Target team supports this work, monitors the results, considers apparent risks and develops mitigation strategies.”
Local and Regional Leadership Teams have been set up to facilitate consultation in all 57 criminal court sites. Each one of those teams is identifying, implementing or sustaining initiatives – and learning from the work of others.
One such initiative is called “meaningful first appearances” and is a recognition that many people have never been to court before. By taking the time to explain the court process, including the responsibilities of people facing charges, everyone is able to make more informed decisions and take necessary steps sooner.
For example, local leaders at the Ontario Court of Justice in North York developed a First Appearance “orientation session” model that has been adapted by several other courts to date. They literally turned the courtroom around. Representatives from the Crown Attorney’s office and Duty Counsel face and address members of the public gallery instead of the judge’s dais before court is officially in session.
Duty Counsel offers to meet privately with anyone who has not yet retained legal counsel and describes how to apply for legal aid. A member of the Crown’s Office ensures everyone in the audience has their disclosure – the information prepared by police. A charge screening form is also available showing whether or not they qualify for a program holding low level offenders directly accountable to the community, rather than following the formal court process. The program is called Direct Accountability and has been expanded as part of the Justice on Target strategy.
The North York court was one of the first sites engaged in the strategy. As a result of the innovative orientation session and other local initiatives the court has reduced the average number of appearances needed to complete a criminal charge by nearly 16 percent from 2007, the year before the strategy was launched. Province-wide the average number of appearances has fallen by three percent and that number is growing now that every site in the province is implementing its own ideas to curb delay.
Transparency is one of our strategy’s hallmarks. Criminal court statistics are available to the public so they can follow the progress and see the impact in their local communities.
The statistics show tangible results. But, the change taking root in our courts is just as significant – if not more so. Justice on Target fosters collaboration and creativity needed to address criminal court delay at the local level. The strategy’s goals are being embedded in the ministry’s staffing recruitment and leadership building sessions.
Justice on Target has support and assistance from a cross-ministry steering committee and an expert advisory panel composed of some of the best minds in the field of criminal justice. The strategy also reports to a Results Table, chaired by Attorney General Chris Bentley, who says, “Justice on Target is finding sustainable solutions to an issue that has continually challenged our criminal justice system.
“It is about working together to improve justice services for all Ontarians, whether they are victims, witnesses, accused, other participants or members of the community,” he adds. “After all, it is their justice system.”
Stephen Rhodes is the Associate Deputy Minister of the Ministry of the Attorney General.