Court Site Study of Adult Unrepresented Accused in the Provincial Criminal Courts (Part 2: Site Reports)

Chapter 3: Halifax, Nova Scotia

3.1 Objectives, format and methodology

3.1.1 Objectives

The Department of Justice and the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Permanent Working Group on Legal Aid engaged the research team to measure:

  • The frequency with which accused persons are appearing before the court without representation – at different stages of the court process.
  • The impacts of self-represented accused – on themselves, on other groups involved in the court process, and on the courts in total.

A brief overview of the full national study – covering nine court sites – has been presented in Chapter 1. The methodology for the Halifax part of the national study followed a strategy for data collection and site visits similar to that followed in the other sites.

3.1.2 Report format

The findings for Halifax are presented in seven sections.

Section 1 outlines the objectives of the study, describes the format of the report, and discusses the methodology used to collect information.
Section 2 provides important contextual information for interpreting the findings of the report.  Special attention is give to key characteristics of the community, the court, legal aid, duty counsel and disclosure.
Section 3 describes how frequently self-represented accused appear at different stages of the court process.
Section 4 explores the frequency with which accused persons have other types of representation, and how those frequencies vary at different stages of the court process.
Section 5 focuses on the important impacts of self- representation on the accused.  The section discusses both perceptions provided from our interviews and empirical evidence from data especially collected for the project.
Section 6 then describes other significant impacts due to the presence of unrepresented accused –  on the key groups involved in the courts (e.g., legal aid, duty counsel, Crown attorneys, judges and court personnel) and on court operations (including: court workloads and time to deal with and dispose of cases).
Section 7 completes the report with key overall findings and solutions that have been suggested by those interviewed in Halifax.

3.1.3 Methodology

The methodology involved data collection and site visits.  Information was available on the question of unrepresented accused from three sources:

  • Key Person Interviews.  These were conducted with over 20 key informants (judges, Crowns, Legal Aid staff and management, court administration and court clerks, private bar members, local service agencies, etc).  Interviews were from 30 minutes to one hour, covered all aspects of the study, and most were conducted by two interviewees.  The anonymity of those interviewed was ensured.
  • Direct Court Observation sample.  A local person with extensive experience in the Halifax court was hired to sit in court and directly observe and record information on the events and decisions that occurred in 223 case court appearances over a period of ten days.  Those observations took place in first appearance/arraignment/docket court (Courtroom number 1) in May of 2002.[19]
  • A Disposed Cases sample, a file consisting of data on each of the 8,266 count/defendant/appearances involved in the 2,323 appearances associated a sample of 509 disposed cases[20] that involved a Criminal Code offence or violation of another federal statute, and were disposed in the period September 2001 through May 2002.
    • The file was constructed by combining data manually coded from court records (informations and reporters' notes) and data especially extracted from the court automated information system (JOIS).
      • Since, in the past, the court in Halifax had not systematically recorded the type of legal representation at each case/appearance into the automated information system (JOIS), it was necessary to hire a local person knowledgeable in court administrative procedures to perform a manual search of court records, and to record – for each of the 8,266 count/appearances associated with the 509 disposed cases – the type of representation data that was available from those manual records.
      • The original data from JOIS was provided in three separate tables. One contained data on events and decisions that were taken at each of the 8,266 individual count/defendant appearances (e.g., date of appearance, plea, bail, reason for appearance).  The second contained data on each of the 509 case/defendants (e.g., date of birth and number of prior convictions).  The last contained data on each of the 1,761 separate offences charged in the 509 cases (e.g., offence type, disposition and sentence).  Information from these three data files was combined for specific cases by the researchers, using common identifiers that were contained in each file (e.g., the case identifier and the defendant's name).
      • The manual and automated data were then combined into the Disposed Cases sample.

In all parts of the project, we received excellent co-operation and assistance from all those we asked to participate in the study.  We also gratefully acknowledge the very able assistance and expertise of the  two Haligonians who assisted in observing in court and in creating the Disposed Cases file from manual and automated court records.

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