This fact sheet is based on two Canadian publications from 2005 and 2010,Footnote 1 publicly available and special request data from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics at Statistics Canada, and internal research reports prepared by Justice Canada.
A preliminary inquiry is a judicial hearing that is used in serious criminal cases to determine whether the evidence assembled by the Crown against an accused person is sufficient to proceed with a trial. The preliminary inquiry is not a trial in the strict sense, although evidence is given under oath and the accused or the accused’s counsel is entitled to cross examine any witnesses summoned by the Crown.
The findings reported below may differ from other Statistics Canada and Justice Canada reports on preliminary inquiries. One reason for the differences is the change in concept/methodology used to produce the figures. The change in this JustFacts involves reporting preliminary inquiries if there were “any-in-the-case”. Previous work on preliminary inquiries has generally used data and reported trends only for the most serious offence. Different figures are also due to data updates following the last statistical release.
There were 357,642 cases (provincial and superior courts) completed in adult criminal court across Canada in 2016/2017 that involved 1,227,546 charges (includes both those with and without a preliminary inquiry).Footnote 4 The number of completed adult criminal court cases increased 2% from the previous year marking the first increase since 2009/2010. The number of charges completed in adult criminal court (provincial and superior) increased 6% from the previous year.
A larger proportion of charges and cases in superior courts have a preliminary inquiryFootnote 5
In provincial courts in 2016/2017, 4% of completed charges (n = 47,250) and 3% of completed cases (n = 10,456) had a preliminary inquiry. In superior courts in 2016/2017, 27% of completed charges (n = 1,526) and 28% of completed cases (n = 425) had a preliminary inquiry. The proportions of cases and charges with a preliminary inquiry in provincial courts have remained relatively stable over the last decade. In superior courts, the proportions of cases and charges with a preliminary inquiry have slightly increased over the last decade.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Integrated Criminal Court Survey. Custom tabulation prepared by Department of Justice Canada.
Cases completed with a preliminary inquiry have decreased over the last 10 yearsFootnote 6
When counting “any-in-the-caseFootnote 7” preliminary inquiries, in 2007/2008, 13,092 preliminary inquiries (3% of all cases) were scheduled and/or heldFootnote 8 in provincial and superior courts.Footnote 9,Footnote 10 In 2016/2017, there were 10,881 preliminary inquiries (3% of all cases), representing a 17% decrease in the number of preliminary inquiries over the last ten years.
Preliminary inquiries may impact the time required for case completion
In 2016/2017, the majority (78%; n = 8,471) of adult criminal court cases (provincial and superior court cases) with a preliminary inquiry requested and/or held were completed in less than 30 months. The remaining cases (22%; n = 2,410) took 30 months or longer to complete.
Over the past ten years, applying the 30 month cutoff retroactively to examine case processing trends, the percentage of cases with a preliminary inquiry completed within 30 months has decreased from 89% in 2007/2008 to 78% in 2016/2017. There has been a small decrease between 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 from 80% to 78%.
The majority of cases (92%) completed in adult criminal court (provincial and superior) without a preliminary inquiry are completed in less than 18 months in provincial court and less than 30 months in superior court. Less than one in ten (8%, n = 27,073) cases completed in adult criminal court (provincial and superior) without a preliminary inquiry are completed in more than 18 months in provincial court and 30 months in superior court. The proportions of cases without a preliminary inquiry being over or under the 18 and 30 month timeframes have been stable over the last ten years.Footnote 11
Charges with a preliminary inquiry take longer to complete, have more appearances, and have more days between court appearancesFootnote 12
In 2016/2017, charges with a preliminary inquiry in provincial court took a median of 458 days, a median of 13 appearances to complete, and there were on average 42 days between appearances. Charges without a preliminary inquiry in provincial court took a median of 115 days, a median of 6 appearances to complete, and there were on average 27 days between appearances.
In 2016/2017, charges with a preliminary inquiry in superior court took a median of 401 days, a median of 11 appearances to complete, and there were on average 35 days between appearances. Charges without a preliminary inquiry in superior court took a median of 284 days, a median of 8 appearances to complete, and there were on average 29 days between appearances. These trends are presented in Table 1 below.Footnote 13
Mixed results regarding the likelihood of a trial following a preliminary inquiry
Research by Justice CanadaFootnote 14 found that holding a preliminary inquiry did not affect the likelihood of a trial taking place, while other researchFootnote 15 found some evidence to indicate that when a preliminary inquiry was held the likelihood of a trial taking place decreased.Footnote 16 However, the critical question of the relationship between holding a trial and having a preliminary inquiry cannot be fully answered.
2004 Amendments to the Preliminary Inquiry
The administrative and procedural amendments of former Bill C-15A (short title: the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2001) were assessed in a Justice Canada study, which suggested that the legislative changes made by former Bill C-15A had to some extent succeeded in reducing the number and scope of preliminary inquiries in Canada.Footnote 17 In this 2004 study, it was found that there was a 68% decline in the number of preliminary inquiries held in Quebec and an average of a 20% decline in British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Nunavut. Furthermore, the proportion of cases for offences against the person with a preliminary inquiry increased while the proportion of cases that involved property offences decreased.Footnote 18
Table 1: Adult criminal court processing times, chargestable note a for all offences, 2016/2017