Justice Minister Denis is touting “Traffic Court Reform” as a “citizen-friendly” dispute resolution process to “resolve” traffic tickets. It’s also the first step into a quagmire that erases our civil liberties in order to save money (and help the minister meet his 2014 budget targets).
The Justice minister requested “feedback” on the four principles underlying his draconian proposal. I sent him the following response:
Principle 1: The premise underlying the request for feedback is flawed. It is based on the assertion that traffic matters should be removed from the traditional court system and into an administrative process in order to save money and free up court time for more serious matters.
Cost reduction and better access to the courts are laudable goals but unrelated to the real question which is should traffic matters be removed from the traditional court system (and all the protections that it affords) and turned over to an administrative body about which we know absolutely nothing.
Principle 2: An administrative process is not efficient and accessible if it coerces citizens into unwittingly giving up their constitutional right to a fair trial. The so-called “early payment” option is not a convenient payment scheme but a mechanism to encourage citizens to plead guilty even if they’re innocent in order to save a few bucks.
Calling it a “discounted fine” is misleading. Citizens are being deceived into thinking that the “discounted fine” is akin to the early payment option on a parking ticket. They don’t understand that this is, in effect, a guilty plea that will go on their record and may result in demerit points and potentially count against them under a number of sections of the Traffic Safety Act.
The right to “challenge” a ticket before an adjudicator who will either “confirm” or “cancel” the ticket is not the same thing as the constitutional right to a fair trial conducted by a legally trained prosecutor in front of a legally trained judge. No amount of “training” can equip an adjudicator to understand the law, rules of evidence, and principles of natural justice as comprehensively as three years of law school and countless years of legal experience.
Principle 3: The right to a fair trial is further compromised by the fact that the citizen can and will be convicted on the strength of a police report. He has no right to cross examine the police officer who wrote the report because the officer is no longer required to attend. He can’t discuss the facts with the prosecutor (who may decide to dismiss the case for lack of evidence) because the prosecutor is no longer required to attend. The citizen’s fate rests on the scribblings of a policeman and nothing more.
Principle 4: The administrative process will be governed by the rules of natural justice, but the adjudicator has no latitude to make “a deal”. All he can do is “confirm” or “cancel” the ticket. How does this comply with the rules of natural justice and equity which allow for judicial discretion?
Furthermore, what is the applicable standard of proof? Will the adjudicator “confirm” or “cancel” based on his understanding of the balance of probabilities, beyond a reasonable doubt, or some cockamamie standard dreamed up by the Justice department? Incidentally the use of the terms “confirm” and “cancel” for “guilty” and “not guilty” further misleads Albertans into underestimating the impact of this proposal on their civil rights and freedoms.
I am saddened that the Justice minister would propose this misguided and frankly unconstitutional “solution” to ease the rising cost of maintaining our criminal justice system.
Further I am disappointed that the minister would resort to such a faulty feedback process to justify his attempt to slide into law a process that violates the rules of natural justice and a citizen’s constitutional right to a fair trial.
I urge you to reconsider this misguided proposal.
Sincerely, blah blah blah
Take a stand
I’ve practiced law for over two decades. A good part of my practice involves working with administrative/regulatory bodies including the securities commission, the NEB and FERC. All of these regulators can impose penalties for misconduct, but none do so at the expense of a citizen’s right to a fair trial.
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell them that you oppose Justice Minister Denis’ proposal to reform Traffic Court because it requires citizens to give up their right to a fair trial and as such is unconstitutional. It’s time to stand up against the PC government’s unrelenting assault on our civil liberties.
We may not succeed but we won’t go down without a fight!