Adult criminal court statistics in Canada, 2014/2015

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by Ashley Maxwell

One of the key components of Canada's criminal justice system is the courts. The courts interpret and apply the Constitution, the legislation passed by governments, and develop and apply the common law. The courts’ main responsibility is administering justice, by ensuring that crimes are prosecuted fairly and in accordance with Canada’s legal and constitutional structure (Department of Justice Canada 2015a). The courts are also responsible for rendering decisions regarding the culpability of those accused of committing a criminal offence, as well as determining an appropriate sentence should the accused plead or be found guilty (Department of Justice Canada 2015b).

This Juristat article presents information on the characteristics of criminal court cases involving adults (18 years and older).Note 1 Using data from the 2014/2015 Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS), the article presents several key indicators of the adult criminal court process, and focuses on the number of completed cases (including the most common types of offences), the decisions made in cases, as well as the types and lengths of sentences that are imposed on accused persons who are found guilty. In addition, the amount of time it takes to complete adult criminal court cases and the factors which may influence case processing times are presented. Finally, this article briefly presents results by age and sex of the accused.

Over the years, decisions rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), as well as a variety of initiatives that were put forward by different levels of government have influenced the volume of cases and the processing of those cases before the courts. The statistical trends presented in this report reflect, among other things, the progress made in implementing all of these practices and initiatives and are based on standardized reporting rules established with Statistics Canada’s various partners through the ICCS. However, it is impossible to identify a specific initiative as the source of the changes observed in the statistical trends; rather, the trends reflect the cumulative impact of these initiatives combined.

Completed adult criminal court cases in 2014/2015 at a glance

Flow Chart

Description for the flow chart

Description for Adult criminal court statistics in Canada, 2014/2015

Notes

Note: Data exclude information from superior courts in Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan as well as municipal courts in Quebec due to the unavailability of data.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Integrated Criminal Court Survey.

Completed adult criminal court cases decrease in 2014/2015

Chart 1

Description for Chart 1
Chart 1 Cases completed in adult criminal court, Canada, 2005/2006 to 2014/2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Chart 1 Cases completed in adult criminal court. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), number of cases (appearing as column headers).
Year number of cases
2005/
2006
382,322
2006/
2007
380,537
2007/
2008
393,193
2008/
2009
398,697
2009/
2010
410,051
2010/
2011
409,957
2011/
2012
394,116
2012/
2013
387,614
2013/
2014
379,058
2014/
2015
328,028

Adult criminal court cases decline for all offence types

Chart 2

Description for Chart 2
Chart 2 Ten most common offences for cases completed in adult criminal court, Canada, 2014/2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Chart 2 Ten most common offences for cases completed in adult criminal court. The information is grouped by Ten most common offences (appearing as row headers), percent of total cases (appearing as column headers).
Ten most common offences percent of total cases
Fraud 3.2
Mischief 3.6
Drug possession 4.1
Uttering threats 4.5
Major assaultChart 2 Note 2 5.3
Breach of probation 9.0
Common assault 9.1
Fail to comply with order 9.6
Impaired driving 10.1
TheftChart 2 Note 1 10.4

Nearly two thirds of completed adult cases result in guilty finding

Chart 3

Description for Chart 3
Chart 3 Guilty cases in adult criminal court, by province and territory, 2014/2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Chart 3 Guilty cases in adult criminal court. The information is grouped by Province and territory
(appearing as row headers), percent of total cases (appearing as column headers).
Province and territory
percent of total cases
Nunavut 70.0
Northwest Territories 65.8
Yukon 65.4
British Columbia 71.5
Alberta 61.5
Saskatchewan 67.0
Manitoba 68.9
Ontario 53.9
Quebec 73.1
New Brunswick 76.8
Nova Scotia 64.3
Prince Edward Island 75.7
Newfoundland and Labrador 77.2
Canada 63.3

Cases involving violent offences result in guilty finding less often than non-violent cases

Probation most common sentence imposed in adult criminal court

Chart 4

Description for Chart 4
Chart 4 Guilty cases in adult criminal court, by type of sentence, Canada, 2014/2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Chart 4 Guilty cases in adult criminal court. The information is grouped by Type of sentence (appearing as row headers), percent of guilty cases (appearing as column headers).
Type of sentence percent of guilty cases
Custody 36.8
Conditional sentence 4.1
Probation 43.0
Fine 31.3
Restitution 2.3
OtherChart 4 Note 1 72.0

Most custody sentences less than 6 months

Chart 5

Description for Chart 5
Chart 5 Guilty cases in adult criminal court, by length of custody sentence, Canada, 2014/2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Chart 5 Guilty cases in adult criminal court. The information is grouped by Length of custody sentence (appearing as row headers), percent of cases sentenced to custody (appearing as column headers).
Length of custody sentence percent of cases sentenced to custody
1 month
or less
57.5
Greater than
1 month to
3 months
21.9
Greater than
3 months to
6 months
8.8
Greater than
6 months to
12 months
5.5
Greater than
12 months to
less than 2 years
3.1
2 years
or more
3.2

Chart 6

Description for Chart 6
Chart 6 Guilty cases in adult criminal court sentenced to custody, by province and territory, 2014/2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Chart 6 Guilty cases in adult criminal court sentenced to custody. The information is grouped by Province and territory
(appearing as row headers), percent of guilty cases (appearing as column headers).
Province and territory
percent of guilty cases
Nunavut 36.9
Northwest Territories 35.7
Yukon 52.6
British Columbia 46.1
Alberta 41.1
Saskatchewan 31.3
Manitoba 43.7
Ontario 35.4
Quebec 32.2
New Brunswick 29.3
Nova Scotia 29.4
Prince Edward Island 64.7
Newfoundland and Labrador 34.3
Canada 36.8

Case processing times decline

Start of text box

Text box 1
New presumptive ceiling framework for processing criminal court cases

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms outlines that an accused person has a fundamental right to be tried in a timely manner.Note 12 While the Charter does not indicate a specific time limit that is required to process criminal court cases, case law from the R. v. Askov [1990] and R. v. Morin [1992] decisions previously indicated that an 8 to 10 month time period was generally considered to be a reasonable amount of time to complete a provincial court case.Note 13Note 14 An additional 6 to 8 months was also deemed acceptable for cases involving trials in superior court, which overall tend to be more complex.

In July 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision on R. v. Jordan. Jordan was charged in December 2008 for his role in a drug operation that sold cocaine and heroin in British Columbia. Jordan was ultimately found guilty during his trial, which was completed in February 2013. From the time Jordan was initially charged to his conviction, more than 49 months had passed. Jordan brought an application under s. 11(b) of the Charter, seeking a stay of proceedings due to this delay. After review, the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal application by applying the R. v. Morin framework, and Jordan was convicted. However, on appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that the delay was in fact unreasonable, and therefore, a stay of proceedings was entered. In its ruling, the Supreme Court also set out a new presumptive ceiling framework that should be applied to avoid delays in processing criminal court cases, and thereby achieve reasonably prompt justice.Note 15

Under this new framework, there is a presumptive ceiling for processing criminal court cases (i.e., 18 months for cases tried in provincial court; and 30 months for cases tried in superior court or provincial court after a preliminary inquiry). Anything beyond these time periods is presumptively unreasonable. Of note is that delay attributable or waived by the defence does not count towards the presumptive ceiling. However, once the presumptive ceiling has been exceeded, the burden is on the Crown to justify the delay on the basis of exceptional circumstances. Exceptional circumstances lie outside the Crown’s control in that (1) they are reasonably unforeseen or reasonably unavoidable, and (2) they cannot reasonably be remedied.

End of text box

Chart 7

Description for Chart 7
Chart 7 Median length of cases completed in adult criminal court, Canada, 2005/2006 to 2014/2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Chart 7 Median length of cases completed in adult criminal court. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), median length of cases (days) (appearing as column headers).
Year median length of cases (days)
2005/
2006
124
2006/
2007
125
2007/
2008
125
2008/
2009
125
2009/
2010
120
2010/
2011
119
2011/
2012
120
2012/
2013
120
2013/
2014
127
2014/
2015
121

Chart 8

Description for Chart 8
Chart 8 Median length of cases completed in adult criminal court, by province and territory, 2014/2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Chart 8 Median length of cases completed in adult criminal court. The information is grouped by Province and territory
(appearing as row headers), median length of cases (days) (appearing as column headers).
Province and territory
median length of cases (days)
Nunavut 71
Northwest Territories 61
Yukon 103
British Columbia 105
Alberta 107
Saskatchewan 77
Manitoba 151
Ontario 104
QuebecChart 8 Note 1 239
New Brunswick 106
Nova Scotia 163
Prince Edward Island 47
Newfoundland and Labrador 143
Canada 121

Majority of adult court cases involve males, younger adults

Chart 9

Description for Chart 9
Chart 9 Cases completed in adult criminal court, by age group and sex of the accused, Canada, 2014/2015
Table summary
This table displays the results of Chart 9 Cases completed in adult criminal court. The information is grouped by Age group (years) (appearing as row headers), Male accused and Female accused (appearing as column headers).
Age group (years) Male accused Female accused
18 to 24 years 63,493 15,803
25 to 34 years 73,498 18,754
35 to 44 years 49,173 12,670
45 to 54 years 34,716 8,445
55 years and older 17,886 3,508

Survey description

The Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) is administered by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (Statistics Canada) in collaboration with provincial and territorial government departments responsible for criminal courts in Canada. The survey collects statistical information on adult and youth court cases involving Criminal Code and other federal statute offences. Data contained in this article represent the adult criminal court portion of the survey, namely, individuals who were 18 years of age or older at the time of the offence.

The primary unit of analysis is a case. A case is defined as one or more charges against an accused person or company that were processed by the courts at the same time and received a final decision. A case combines all charges against the same person having one or more key overlapping dates (date of offence, date of initiation, date of first appearance, or date of decision) into a single case.

A case that has more than one charge is represented by the charge with the "most serious offence" (MSO). The most serious offence is selected using the following rules. First, court decisions are considered and the charge with the “most serious decision” (MSD) is selected. Court decisions for each charge in a case are ranked from most to least serious as follows: (1) guilty, (2) guilty of a lesser offence, (3) acquitted, (4) stay of proceeding, (5) withdrawn, dismissed or discharged, (6) not criminally responsible, (7) other, and (8) transfer of court jurisdiction.

Second, in cases where two or more charges result in the same MSD (e.g., guilty), Criminal Code sentences are considered. The charge with the most serious offence type is selected according to an offence seriousness scale, based on actual sentences handed down by courts in Canada.Note 24 Each offence type is ranked by looking at (1) the proportion of guilty charges where custody was imposed and (2) the average (mean) length of custody for the specific type of offence. These values are multiplied together to arrive at the final seriousness ranking for each type of offence. If, after looking at the offence seriousness scale, two or more charges remain tied then information about the sentence type and duration of the sentence are considered (e.g., custody and length of custody, then probation and length of probation, etc.).

In 2014/2015, ICCS coverage reflected all cases completed in adult Canadian criminal courts, with the exception of superior courts in Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan as well as municipal courts in Quebec. These data were not available for extraction from the provinces’ electronic reporting systems and therefore, were not reported to the survey.

The absence of data from superior courts in Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan may have resulted in an underestimation of the severity of sentences in this article, since some of the most serious cases, which are likely to result in the most severe sentences, are processed in superior courts. There may also be an underestimation of case elapsed times as more serious cases generally require more court appearances and take more time to complete. In 2014/2015, superior court data reported to the survey represented less than 1% of all cases completed in adult criminal court.

In addition, in Quebec, some municipal courts hear cases under Part XXVII of the Criminal Code, that is, summary convictions. Such cases, which correspond to an accused in an incident, are excluded from the information that Quebec transmits to Statistics Canada. Cases heard by municipal courts account for approximately 14% of all criminal cases opened in Quebec. As a result, the median processing time for cases in Quebec may be overestimated since the data from municipal courts, which normally hear less serious cases, are not taken into account.

Cases are counted in the fiscal year in which they are completed. Every year, the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) database is considered final at the end of March for the production of court statistics for the previous fiscal year. These counts do not include cases pending an outcome at the end of the reference period. If an outcome is reached in the next fiscal year, these cases are included in the completed case counts for that fiscal year. However, cases that are inactive for one year are deemed complete and the originally published counts for the previous fiscal year are updated and reported in the next fiscal year's data release. This approach is difficult to apply in Quebec, where all cases for which data are provided are deemed completed. Information from the Court of Quebec and the Superior Court is reported using the former Adult Criminal Court Survey national data requirements (NDR) rather than the ICCS NDR. In as much as possible, the data are converted to ICCS format during data processing; however, the conversion seems to have a negative impact on the number of annual updates.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Charges and cases completed in adult criminal court, Canada, 2005/2006 to 2014/2015

Table 2 Cases completed in adult criminal court, by province and territory, 2013/2014 and 2014/2015

Table 3 Cases completed in adult criminal court, by type of offence, Canada, 2013/2014 and 2014/2015

Table 4 Cases completed in adult criminal court, by type of offence and decision, Canada, 2014/2015

Table 5 Guilty cases completed in adult criminal court, by type of offence and select sentence, Canada, 2014/2015

Table 6 Cases completed in adult criminal court, by type of offence and sex of the accused, Canada, 2014/2015

References

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Department of Justice Canada. 2006. The Final Report on Early Case Consideration of the Steering Committee on Justice Efficiencies and Access to the Justice System. Catalogue no. J2-128/2015. (accessed November 30, 2016).

Department of Justice Canada. 2015a. Canada’s Court System. Catalogue no. J2-128/2015E. (accessed July 5, 2016).

Department of Justice Canada. 2015b. Canada’s System of Justice. Catalogue no. J2-128/2015. (accessed July 5, 2016).

Miladinovic, Z. and J. Lukassen. 2014. “Verdicts of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder in adult criminal courts, 2005/2006-2011/2012.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Miladinovic, Z. 2016. “Youth court statistics in Canada, 2014/2015.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Perreault, S. 2016. “Impaired driving in Canada, 2015.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Public Prosecution Service of Canada. 2014. Public Prosecution Service of Canada Deskbook. Catalogue no. J77-2/2014E. (accessed November 24, 2016).

Rotenberg, C. 2016. “Prostitution offences in Canada: Statistical trends.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Notes

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