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19-month delay tosses assault case

Feb 25 2012

A Duncan man charged with sucker-punching, then beating a defenceless man has had his case thrown out because of the backlog in B.C. provincial court.

Bradley Richard Thorne was charged with aggravated assault on Nov. 14, 2009. In January,

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Miriam Gropper found his right to be tried within a reasonable period had been denied. She found a shortage of judicial and court resources caused a 19-month provincial court delay and significant prejudice to Thorne.

The ruling has not been previously publicized; the Times Colonist learned of it this week.

“I accept that the accused is charged with a serious offence of aggravated assault, but the accused still has the right to be protected by the Charter,” Gropper said in her ruling.

Quoting an earlier judgment, she continued: “There is a point in time at which the Court will no longer tolerate delay based on the plea of inadequate resources. This is a case where the delay cannot be tolerated.”

Under the Criminal Code, aggravated assault means to wound, maim, disfigure or endanger the life of another person. The Crown alleged that Thorne repeatedly struck his victim after he fell to the ground and caused him serious, potentially lifelong, injury.

On Nov. 26, 2009, Thorne was released on bail conditions that placed him under house arrest with an ankle bracelet for electronic monitoring. A preliminary inquiry scheduled for Nov. 22, 2010, did not proceed.

“This is an adjournment as a result of what can only be referred to as systemic problems in the court,” said Josiah Wood, the presiding provincial court judge.

Because Thorne could not afford a lawyer to seek changes to his bail conditions, he continued to wear the ankle bracelet and remained under house arrest until the preliminary inquiry took place in August 2011 — one year and nine months after bail was imposed.

On Jan. 3, 2012, the day before his trial was to begin, Thorne applied for a judicial stay of proceedings, which was granted.

Gropper noted that the 19-month delay exceeded Supreme Court of Canada guidelines of eight to 10 months “by almost double.” She ruled that Thorne suffered significant prejudice due to delay. His bail conditions were onerous, she said, and the delay prejudiced his ability to provide a full defence. Thorne said his memory of events was fading and witnesses have disappeared.

Justice Minister Shirley Bond said she is concerned about increases in delays and stays in court proceedings. “The larger question is why judicial stays of proceedings almost doubled last year when fewer new provincial criminal court cases were heard this past year than 10 years ago,” Bond said. “It’s clear systemic changes are needed.”

Opposition critic Leonard Krog predicted more serious cases will be dismissed. “We’ve crippled the justice system. People who should be in jail will be walking the streets and the innocent among us will never be able to clear their names,” Krog said.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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