Local defence lawyers and provincial Crown prosecutors both say they are happy with changes to the bail system introduced last year in response to the death of St. Albert Const. David Wynn.
Until last August, police and RCMP members represented the Crown at bail hearings across the province. Under the new system, Crown prosecutors now represent the Crown at bail hearings.
Defence lawyers and St. Albert court duty counsellors Brad Leebody and Dave Lloyd said that the new system is much better than the previous system the province had in place.
“It is super efficient and I love it. I would never want to go back to the old system,” Leebody said.
The lawyers said that Crown prosecutors are better able to deal with bail hearings than police officers.
“They are more in tune with what a bail hearing is supposed to achieve,” Lloyd said.
Suzanne Kendall, chief Crown of the provincial bail office, said that bail is a very important part of the criminal justice system and it is important to have prosecutors involved in that step.
“Bail is a very complex decision and process in the whole life of a criminal file,” Kendall said. “It’s a balancing act between a number of competing factors.”
Kendall said that prosecutors and judges have to consider public safety while also still giving the accused the presumption of innocence.
Another change made in the bail overhaul is that bail hearings in Alberta no longer operate between midnight and 8 a.m.
Leebody and Lloyd said that one flaw in the system is that bail hearings no longer operate 24 hours a day and an accused may have to wait overnight to have their hearing.
“It has impacted access to liberty to accused people that way,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd said that having to wait an extra eight hours in remand while waiting for a bail hearing can have a big impact on an accused, including the risk of job loss if the accused isn’t released before they have to be at work.
Calgary chief Crown, Suzanne Kendall, said that new restricted hours do cause delays but said that bail hearings are happening earlier in the court process.
“Because Crown prosecutors are now making decisions around bail we are finding while it doesn’t change the number of people that are released on bail, the release happens a little earlier in the process. I think that alleviates some of the concerns around delay,” Kendall said.
Kendall said that busier court locations across the province are seeing bail processes moved to court less frequently and alleviating some of pressure on courts.
The changes to the bail system were prompted by the death of Wynn, who was shot and killed on the job while trying to arrest a man who was out on bail.
Wynn and Auxiliary Const. Derek Bond, 49, had identified a truck with a licence that didn’t match the registration when Shawn Rehn shot at them at close range. Rehn later committed suicide.
Rehn had a long criminal record with close to 60 convictions dating back to 1999, which included assault with a weapon and gun charges.
The judge at Rehn’s bail hearing did not hear about his criminal past and Rehn was granted bail despite his history. Rehn then failed to show up in court. Warrants were issued for his arrest on Nov. 12, 13 and 28 in 2014.
After the incident an external review of the bail process in Alberta was conducted and Nancy Irving wrote the Alberta Bail Review: Endorsing a Call for Change. The first recommendation was to replace police officers with Crown prosecutors at bail hearings.
In Feb. 2017, Chief Justice Neil Wittmann delivered a decision that police do not have the legal authority to conduct bail hearings and Crown prosecutors were tasked with taking over the hearings by
There are currently 23 Crown prosecutors and one assistant chief Crown prosecutor dedicated to conducting bail hearings across the province. The province is currently recruiting for one more Crown prosecutor for a 25-member team.