Focusing on access to justice for Albertans
The Alberta government is currently consulting about potential reforms to the way traffic tickets are handled. While we review the potential improvements, it is important Albertans know why traffic court reform is necessary.
Traffic court’s impact on Criminal or Civil proceedings
Traffic courts are in Provincial Court buildings across Alberta. They use the same infrastructure, security, court clerks, computer systems and general court staff as criminal and civil matters. In larger cities we try to have provincial prosecutors and justices of the peace deal with these matters, but some tickets still make their way in front of judges (any Charter issue must be heard before a Provincial Court judge). In rural areas where it isn’t possible to operate numerous courtrooms at once, Provincial Court Judges and Crown Prosecutors are routinely involved in traffic ticket matters.
How our current traffic court system works
More than two million traffic tickets were issued in Alberta in 2012-13 alone. Of these approximately 60,000 tickets were disputed, requiring court time, space and staffing resources.
Even matters that are settled before trial officially begins have time booked in court, resulting in traffic tickets consuming valuable court and prosecution resources that could be direct to more serious criminal matters.
Protecting legal and constitutional foundations of courts
Adjudicative processes are already used in several other areas to deal with legal matters. For example, both the Alberta Transportation Safety Board and the Residential Tenancies Dispute Resolution Service use administrative systems to deal with legal disputes in our province.
These systems are much easier for Albertans to use. Full-fledged courtrooms require the accused to either hire a lawyer or have intimate knowledge of the way our legal system works. An administrative process designed specifically for use by Albertans could allow anyone to effectively argue and present evidence against a ticket on their own behalf, and those who wish to have an agent or lawyer represent them would still be able to do so. A simpler process like this would be much less resource intensive than using a courtroom, and it makes it easier for Albertans to challenge a traffic ticket.
If adopted, an administrative model would not be used for every matter. For example, Criminal Code charges would not go to an adjudicator—this includes charges where an accused could go to jail such as impaired driving or dangerous driving. Serious Traffic Safety Act charges, where the accused could potentially go to jail, would also be heard in court . Any traffic court reform will ensure persons charged with traffic offences have an appropriate forum to raise any Charter concerns. Albertans will always have a fair, meaningful and constitutional process for disputing their traffic tickets.
The right to face accuser
Currently, more than 57 per cent of all traffic tickets in Alberta are photo radar or red light violations and do not require police witnesses. Despite this fact, police attendance at traffic trials remains a major issue for police services throughout the province, as officers must take time from ensuring the safety and security of our communities to appear in court for traffic matters.
Infractions under any proposed administrative system would never result in a jail term, nor would a person found responsible for an infraction under this system be guilty of any Criminal Code offense. Administrative processes being suggested have a long history in our law and have a proven history of ensuring fairness where jail is not a possible penalty.