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

Chapter 4: Brandon , Manitoba

4.1 Objectives, report format and methodology

4.1.1 Objectives

The Department of Justice and the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Permanent Working Group on Legal Aid retained the research team to engage in a national study 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.

4.1.2 Report format

The findings for Brandon 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 Brandon.

4.1.3 Methodology

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

For Brandon, information was available on the question of unrepresented accused from three sources:

  • The Three Months Docket sample.  Data on all court appearances on all first appearance/set date court dockets – i.e., excluding trial courts – for the last three months of 2001.
    • Data were provided from CCAIN (the recently implemented automated court information system) on each count in each appearance during the period.  For each of these 5,144 count/appearances, data was provided on the characteristics of the count (e.g., offence type) and on events and decisions at the appearance (e.g., plea, elections, remands, verdicts and sentences).
    • Unfortunately the type of representation at each appearance is not entered into CCAIN.  It was therefore necessary to hire a local worker with experience in the Brandon court to separately collect data on representation from the manual versions of the three months of dockets that had been kept by the court.
    • The original data from CCAIN and this manually collected data on representation at each count/appearance were then combined.
    • The final step was to combine data from all count/appearances for a particular offender on a particular day to create a file with one record for each of 2,761 "case/appearances." This file became the "Three Months Docket" data set used for this report. [38]
  • A Direct Court Observation sample.  A local person with extensive experience in the Brandon court was hired to sit in court and directly observe and record information on the events and decisions that occurred in 522 case/appearances that took place over ten days in Courtroom 1 (a non-trial court) during April and May of 2001.
  • Interviews 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.).  Most interviews lasted from 30 minutes to an hour and were conducted by two interviewees. The anonymity of those interviewed was ensured. 

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 Winnipeg-based officials who assisted in preparing the electronic file of data from the CCAIN automated information system, as well as the invaluable work of the local worker who did the court observation and supplemented the CCAIN file with representation data.

4.1.4 An important caveat

We were fortunate to have designed the study to ensure that wherever possible we would have multiple sources of data to address particular issues.  This design strategy was especially important in Brandon.

 As in most other courts in the current study, court manual and automated systems had not been designed to collect accurate and comprehensive data on either the frequency or impact of legal representation.  Before reporting the results of the data analysis, we therefore conducted a number of checks to assess the extent to which we should rely on different sources of data for different parts of the analysis. 

In particular, we have concluded that the analysis for Brandon – especially analysis directly addressing the prevalence of different types of legal representation – should place more emphasis on the Direct Court Observation as opposed to on the Three Month Docket data. The court observations were carried out by a very knowledgeable person specially trained by the researchers to observe matters related to legal representation.  Thus, when we noticed that statistics based on data from the Three Month Docket file gave estimates of self-representation that, at first appearance, were considerably higher than estimates based on the direct court observation, on our interviews, and on the researcher's own observations, we felt it reasonable to discount the statistics from the Three Month Docket file and place more emphasis on statistics from the Direct Court Observation file.[39]

The following sections will make it clear when these inconsistencies in the different sources of Brandon data should be explicitly taken into account.[40]

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