Court Site Study of Adult Unrepresented Accused in the Provincial Criminal Courts (Part 2: Site Reports)
Chapter 4: Brandon , Manitoba (continued)
As shown later, the interviews and the analysis of the data specially collected for the project indicate that not having representation has significant implications for the accused – and for other groups involved in the court process. It is therefore important to start by describing how frequently self-represented accused appear at different stages of the court process.
It is not a simple matter to categorize cases with respect to representation received. An accused's representation status will often change from one appearance to the next, as, for example, when an accused may be represented by duty counsel at the bail hearing, but be represented by a private bar member afterwards.
For Brandon, given the nature of both the Court Observation file and the Three Month Docket data file, we were not able to track the patterns of representation over the life of each case. Instead, both files focus on whether specific individual case/appearances (or perhaps several in a case) were associated with certain events – and the type of representation at each of those case/appearances.
However, once the CCAIN automated system has been operational for a longer period of time, it will contain the full past appearance history of a sufficient number of disposed cases. It will then be possible to create an accurate picture of how representation develops and changes between the first and last appearance of a case.
Key informants suggested that, ironically, under the "extended duty counsel system," since duty counsel provided whatever help was required by the unrepresented accused at the early stages of the court process, unrepresented accused were least likely to be found at those stages. Conversely, unrepresented accused were most likely to be found at the trial stage, for which Legal Aid officials had to verify the accused's financial eligibility and qualifications under the coverage criteria before issuing a Legal Aid Certificate. Only then would Legal Aid staff – or a member of the private bar, if chosen by the accused – commit the time required to conduct a trial. All in all, interviewees were unanimous in believing that very few unrepresented accused would be found in Brandon, other than at the trial stage.
As noted earlier, the Direct Court Observation data are considered to be a more accurate reflection of the numbers and proportions of unrepresented accused in the Brandon court.
For the 522 case/appearances observed:
- Overall, 10 percent involved an accused who was unrepresented:
- Nine percent of case/appearances not resulting in a final disposition were without representation. Almost half of the case/appearances observed resulted in an adjournment.
- Fourteen percent of case/appearances resulting in a final disposition were without representation.
Analogous estimates can also be developed from the Three Months Docket sample. However, as noted earlier, the local coder who added the representation data by examining court clerks' manual notes on the dockets indicated that the representation notes appeared to be incomplete in many instances – and her recollection of specific cases and their progress was that many cases that she knew had been represented were noted as not having been represented. In addition, our interviews with key informants were unanimous in suggesting that unrepresented accused were a rarity in the Brandon court, except at trial for certain types of offences. When unrepresented accused did appear at the beginning of an appearance, they were referred to duty counsel by either the judge or the Crown. A number of persons indicated that unrepresented accused were "not an issue" in Brandon.
Nonetheless, for completeness, estimates derived from that second data source are shown here (and are compared to the preferred estimates).
|Direct Court Observation||Three Month Dockets|
|Non-final Appearances||9% (including first appearances)||22 % (excluding first appearances)|
* All data related to case/appearances in docket courts.
Clearly the differences are considerable. Before using the data on representation in the manual court records for similar studies, further investigation is indicated to understand the conventions for recording such data.
Even with the lower levels of self-representation shown by the Direct Court Observation sample, if one accepts the opinion of many of those interviewed – in Brandon and in other sites in the study – that having representation at all stages of the court process is important to the fair and efficient disposition of cases, the existence of lack of representation (at some point in the criminal process) is relevant from both a policy and operational perspective.The remainder of this report will both question this assumption and explore the prevalence and impact of self-representation in more detail.
According to interviewees, the criminal charges most likely to be faced by unrepresented accused are shoplifting and first-offence impaired driving, since a custodial sentence is unlikely in these cases. (Shoplifting cases are, in fact, usually diverted, but, as noted earlier, duty counsel will explain the implications of diversion to persons charged with shoplifting.) Persons appearing in "peace bond" (s. 810) applications or violations are also generally unrepresented. Other, non-criminal cases where representation is unlikely involve Highway Traffic and Wildlife, Fish and Game offences.
Using data from the Direct Court Observation file, Figure BR-1 shows the proportions of unrepresented accused, according to the most serious charge in the case and the type of appearance (interim or final).
Figure BR-3. Proportion of Case/Appearances Involving Unrepresented Accused by Most Serious Charge Category, Brandon* Preferred Source of Statistics
|Most Serious Charge Category||Type of Case Appearance|
|Not-final (%)||Final (%)||Total|
|Assaults excl. Common||11||8||10||(108)|
|Break and Enter||5||***||8||(23)|
|Drugs excl. Simple Possession||***||***||***|
|Thefts and Frauds||8||18||10||(83)|
|Simple Possession of Drugs||***||***||***||(1)|
|Offences against Administration of Justice||11||10||11||(99)|
|Most Serious Charge Category||Type of Case Appearance|
|Not-final (%)||Final (%)||Total|
|Other Federal Statutes & Provincial or Municipal Laws||12||3||23||(34)|
|Total: All Offence Types %||9||14||10|
* Data Source: Direct Court Observation Sample.
- *** The cell contains too few cases to report a percentage
The information in Figure BR-3 suggests that:
- for all offences, the likelihood of an offender being unrepresented seldom rose above one or two in 10; but
- offence categories that were less likely to result in imprisonment were also more likely to be associated with lack of representation (provincial or municipal statute violations, and thefts and frauds, for example).
Again, caution must be exercised in using the analogous numbers (in Figure BR-4) from the Three Month Docket sample – which, according to the court observation data and the key informant interviews, may overstate the proportions of unrepresented accused by as much as 150 percent.
The implications of the statistics in Figure BR-4 are consistent with those in Figure BR-3:
- Offence categories that are less likely to result in imprisonment – impaired driving, provincial or municipal statute violations, and miscellaneous Criminal Code offences – are also more likely to be associated with lack of representation.
- More serious offences, like homicide and robbery, are associated with a lesser prevalence of unrepresented accused, as are weapons offences.
|Most Serious Charge Category||Proportion of Appearances with Unrepresented Accused||Unrep-resented Appear-ances as Proportion of All (%)||Total Number of Case/ Appear-ances|
|First (%)||Interim (%)||Final (%)|
|Assaults excl. Common||35||22||25||25||400|
|Break and Enter||35||23||17||24||98|
|Drugs excl. Simple Possession||32||27||33||28||81|
|Thefts and Frauds||27||19||31||22||636|
|Simple Possession of Drugs||48||24||17||29||75|
|Offences against Administration of Justice||30||20||21||23||724|
|Miscellaneous Criminal Code||33||23||60||46||52|
|Other Federal Statutes||n/a||***||n/a||***||9|
|Provincial or municipal laws||100||55||20||57||21|
|All Offence types – cases||504||1699||558||2761|
Interviewees said there were no other characteristics that appeared to all respondents to be common to unrepresented cases. Some interviewees speculated that such persons would be, variously:
- people who did not wish to disclose their finances; persons who did not wish to pay for their own lawyer but wished to go to trial;
- people who wished to represent themselves out of lack of trust in the criminal justice system, generally;
- people who wished to use their case in order to advocate a cause, such as Aboriginal hunting rights;
- people who wanted to appear in their own defence; and
- people who raised so many barriers to obtaining Legal Aid help that they were refused.
 Court observation data were directly coded onto a form that captured – as one record – all data on all counts observed in a case/appearance.
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