In April 2022, the Superior Court ordered a stay of proceedings against Jacques Delisle. Ten years ago, this former judge was convicted of the premeditated murder of his wife. The Court found that the “serious negligence” of a forensic pathologist prevented Jacques Delisle from receiving a fair trial.
Last September, the Court of Appeal of Quebec cancelled the stay of proceedings and ordered a new trial. According to the Court, measures could be taken to lessen the consequences of the pathologist’s mistakes.
But what are the consequences of a stay of proceedings? When is it justified?
What are the consequences?
When a court orders a stay of proceedings, the court process is brought to a permanent end. This prevents the alleged victim from having their version of events recognized by the court and denies society the opportunity to have the case tried by a judge. For these reasons, a stay of proceedings is the most drastic measure a criminal court can grant.
However, as in the case of Jacques Delisle, a court of appeal has the power to reverse the stay of proceedings and order a new trial. It can do so when the court that ordered the stay of proceedings has committed a serious error. An error is serious when it is obvious and when the error is made about a fact that is essential and decisive to the judge’s conclusion. In such a case, the consequences of the stay of proceedings will be cancelled.
Specific criteria to fulfill
A court will only order a stay of proceedings if it considers that continuing the court process would prevent the accused from having a fair and just trial. Also, the stay of proceedings must be the only way to correct the injustice suffered by the accused.
If the court is unsure that a stay of proceedings is appropriate, it must weigh the interests of society against those of the accused. If a court concludes that a stay of proceedings is not justified, it should opt for a less drastic measure. For example, if evidence was lost to the detriment of the accused, the court could choose to give an instruction to the jury regarding the importance of the evidence lost. In Jacques Delisle’s case, this is what’s going to happen. At the new trial, the jury will be told that the pathologist lost evidence that would’ve made it possible to trace the trajectory of the projectile in the victim’s brain.
Some examples to make things clearer
Generally speaking, a court will order a stay of proceedings when the government jeopardizes the fairness of the accused’s trial. This may be the case, for example, if the government is responsible for unreasonable delays between the time the person is charged with the crime and the end of the trial. For example, a court has already ordered a stay of proceedings in the case of an accused who had to wait 52 months for their trial. A court can also order a stay of proceedings if evidence essential to the trial has been lost or destroyed as a result of unacceptable negligence on the part of the government.