Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Criminal Defence Lawyer's 2008-2009 Rankings of the Courthouses in the GTA

In Ontario alone, there are over 150 courthouses for criminal matters. From a criminal defence lawyer's perspective, where your client is charged can be just as important as the type of charges themselves.

For any person doing a quick comparison, it becomes quickly apparent that all courthouses are not built equally. Some are grand buildings with vivid historical pasts, some are ultra-modern facilities with the latest in technology and design, and others are backed on to used car lots that make it difficult to discriminate between where to put an offer in on a 2002 Dodge Caravan, or where to plead not-guilty to your assault charges.

As a criminal lawyer, you have the privilege or suffering of multiple courthouses in short order. Seeing that the only other group of people that can compare courthouses outside of criminal defence lawyers, are people adept at getting charged in all jurisdictions, I have taken it upon myself to provide a ranking of some of these courthouses that I frequent.

For the time being, I have limited the rating to the Greater Toronto Area and then selecting ten courthouses out of that definition. In rating the courthouses I have used a scale from 1-5; 5 being the best score a courthouse can receive, and 1 being the worst. Courthouses are evaluated on 5 categories: Venue, Ease of Practice; Crown Attorney's Office, the Judiciary, Perks and Comforts.

Here is a more detailed breakdown of the categories:

Venue: This is assessed on the physical make up of the Courthouse. Is the Courthouse in a strip mall next under power lines, or is it something that tourists have to be repeatedly told they can't come in and take pictures? Other factors include: courtroom and courthouse layouts, design, aesthetics, washrooms, location, etc. I feel that this aspect of courthouses is often neglected, particularly in past years where governments seek to cut costs real estate costs in rent or by trying to gain funds by selling valuable assets. Sadly, these sacrifices come at a cost of people's perception of the justice system. It is difficult to feel reverent when your local Walmart is a more impressive building than some of the courthouses that scatter the Province. Conversely, appearing at certain structures send a powerful message to person's before the Court of the State's power and it's level of priority towards issues of justice. For better or worse, they are marked accordingly.

Practice and Ease of Use: Court procedures and administration can be very frustrating. This is particularly true for unrepresented accuseds. However, the seemingly obligatory Kafka-esque approach is entirely unnecessary. What is confusing to a defence lawyer is the massive disparities between courthouse procedures and protocols throughout the province. What is more confusing is that these disparities can be most dramatic even between courthouses within a bus ride between one another. For reasons that I cannot provide, an appearance for an accused can be a very painless and streamlined appearance that lasts for less than 20 minutes, or a tortuous experience that may last the entire day with little or no guidance.

Crown Attorney's Office: The Crown Attorney's office holds a tremendous amount of power over an accused and its effect on the administration of justice. The Crown controls the flow of disclosure, whether charges are proceeded on or not, whether policies of "zero-tolerance" are strictly adhered to, and as an overall negotiator towards a just result for all parties. Although the "Crown is one" in law, in practice it is very different in approach and governance over the courthouse they act within. The ranking, as all others, are based upon a criminal defence lawyer's perspective on these issues. Needless to say, an individual from the Crown's office may rank things much differently but that is for them to do so.

The Judiciary: Overall, the judges in Ontario are of a very high calibre with strict requirements and high standards for appointment. This category addresses issues such as availability of judges and court resources. Are trials reached? Do bail hearings commence in time? With less time and resources for the bench, the less time these jurists have to write considered decisions, listen to evidence and without external pressure of schedules. A worn down judiciary from lack of resources affects everyone, and most importantly the accused who is entitled to a fair trial. Another very important factor is the presence, or lack thereof, of specialized courts for drug treatment, mental health, native Canadians, etc. Other factors taken into consideration from this defence perspective, include defence counsel's ability to achieve favourable results for their clients.

Perks: Are just that: How is the coffee? Is there parking? Where are we going for lunch? Is there public transit getting there? What is the lawyer's lounge like (if at all)? As insignificant this may seem, on a day in and day out basis, this is very important for a defence lawyer and affects to morale of all players in the system.

In my rankings I have tried to be as objective as possible, taking out isolated bad experiences, and considering each venue as if this was a courthouse a lawyer was dedicated to full time. I have also decided to only provide the overall score of each courthouse for the time being as I need to be conscious of who I might offend. More importantly, the problems in individual courthouses much be looked at in a much more holistic manner than one pressing issue (such as lack of resources). With better coffee, people are happier, Crown's are more likely to offer a reasonable position on a plea, content judges are more willing to go along with proposals for sentence, and in a majestic building, the accused does not feel like he is being sold a 2002 Dodge Caravan. It is all related.

Here are the rankings:

  1. WINNER: Newmarket, York Region. (Score of 21 out of 25).
  2. RUNNER UP: 311 Jarvis Avenue, Toronto Youth Court (Score 20 out of 25)
  3. THIRD: Old City Hall, Toronto (Score 19 out of 25)
  4. Fourth: 361 University Avenue, Toronto Superior Court (Score 18 out of 25)
  5. Fifth: 1911 Eglinton Avenue, Scarborough (Score 17 out of 25)
  6. Sixth (tie): Brampton, Peel Region & College Park, Toronto (Score 17 out of 25)
  7. Eighth: 1000 Finch Avenue, Toronto (Score 13 out of 25)
  8. Ninth: 2201 Finch Avenue West, Etobicoke (Score 12 out of 25)
  9. Tenth: Oshawa/Whitby, Durham Region (Score 10 out of 25)

1 comment:

HiMY SYeD said...


Fascinating work which gives some insight on how things work in this city that is not often written about.

I created a wiki page on Torontopedia:

http://www.Torontopedia.ca/Courthouse_Rankings_in_the_GTAand look forward to your future rankings.