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Adult criminal and youth court statistics in Canada, 2017/2018

Released: 2019-10-30

Overall, the length of time it takes to complete charges in Canadian courts—that is, time from the first appearance to the final decision, or to the first sentence in the case of guilty charges—has risen over the past decade. In 2017/2018, it decreased in adult criminal court but increased in youth court. Meanwhile, the number of charges and completed cases has declined, according to data from the Integrated Criminal Court Survey.

New data, released today, provide information on adult criminal and youth courts in Canada for 2017/2018, including the characteristics and number of cases and charges completed, the length of time it took to complete cases and charges, offence types, and decisions and sentences.

In Canada, adult criminal courts operate in parallel to, but separate from, youth courts. Youth courts are guided by the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), which aims to divert youth offenders involved in less serious crimes out of the formal criminal court system. The YCJA also requires that all reasonable alternatives to custody be considered. For these reasons, the characteristics of cases and charges in adult criminal court differ from those in youth court.

The time needed to complete a charge is down in adult criminal court, but up in youth court

In 2017/2018, the median length of time taken to complete a charge was 119 days in adult criminal court and 113 days in youth court. This was down from 120 days the previous year for adult criminal court, and up from 106 days for youth court.

Compared with a decade ago (2008/2009), adult criminal courts took 7 more days to complete a charge in 2017/2018, while youth courts took 16 more days.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Median charge processing times, adult criminal and youth court, Canada, 2008/2009 to 2017/2018
Median charge processing times, adult criminal and youth court, Canada, 2008/2009 to 2017/2018

Among the provinces and territories, Quebec (169 days) recorded the longest median time to process a charge in adult criminal court in 2017/2018, while Prince Edward Island (38 days) posted the shortest.

This median length decreased in seven provinces and territories in adult criminal court in 2017/2018, with the Northwest Territories posting the biggest decline (-14 days). Of the five jurisdictions that saw an increase, Yukon recorded the largest (+25.5 days), while there was no change in New Brunswick.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Median charge processing times, provinces and territories, adult criminal court, 2016/2017 and 2017/2018
Median charge processing times, provinces and territories, adult criminal court, 2016/2017 and 2017/2018

In youth court, Ontario reported the longest median charge processing time, at 148 days, while Prince Edward Island had the shortest (29 days). The median time fell in five provinces and territories in 2017/2018 (Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Alberta, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories), and rose in the remaining jurisdictions (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Nunavut).

Fewer cases and charges completed in adult criminal and youth court

Cases can involve more than one charge. Nearly 345,000 cases, comprising more than 1.2 million charges, were completed in adult criminal court in Canada in 2017/2018, while over 27,000 cases, comprising in excess of 105,000 charges, were completed in youth court.

In 2017/2018, the volume of cases completed in adult criminal court fell 3% compared with the previous year, while the number of charges declined 1%. This followed a rise in the number of cases completed in adult criminal court in 2016/2017—the first increase in seven years. In contrast, both the number and rate of police-reported crime increased each year from 2014 to 2018.

Youth court also reported decreases in 2017/2018, with cases down 7% and charges down 10%. The number of charges and cases completed in youth court has consistently declined in the past decade. Longer charge processing times seen in conjunction with fewer charges completed could be an indication that charges have become more complex.

The decline in completed cases from 2016/2017 to 2017/2018 was driven by fewer administration of justice cases in adult criminal court and fewer property crimes in youth court during the same period.

The average number of charges per case in adult criminal court grew from 3.0 in 2008/2009 to 3.5 in 2017/2018, while it rose from 3.3 to 3.8 in youth court.

Chart 3  Chart 3: Cases completed in adult criminal court, Canada, 2008/2009 to 2017/2018
Cases completed in adult criminal court, Canada, 2008/2009 to 2017/2018

Chart 4  Chart 4: Cases completed in youth court, Canada, 2008/2009 to 2017/2018
Cases completed in youth court, Canada, 2008/2009 to 2017/2018

Four provinces and territories recorded an increase in the number of completed cases in adult criminal court in 2017/2018 compared with the previous year, with Quebec (+1,949) reporting the largest rise in completed cases. In contrast, nine jurisdictions reported decreases, with the largest decline being posted in Ontario (-6,997).

In youth court, every province and territory reported a decrease, except Newfoundland and Labrador (+11 cases).

Share of cases that result in a guilty finding declines slightly

Just over half (51%) of youth court cases resulted in a guilty finding in 2017/2018, down 2 percentage points from 2016/2017 and down 8 percentage points from 2008/2009.

In adult criminal court, closer to two-thirds (62%) of cases resulted in a guilty finding in 2017/2018, down 1 percentage point from the previous year and down 4 percentage points from 2008/2009.

Nearly half (47%) of cases in youth court resulted in a stay or withdrawal in 2017/2018, while this was the case for one-third (33%) of cases in adult criminal court. Acquittals and other types of decisions continued to be less frequent, representing 2% of decisions in youth court cases and 5% of decisions in adult criminal court cases.

Imposition of custodial sentences varies across the country

Cases can receive more than one type of sentence. In 2017/2018, 92% of adult criminal court cases that resulted in a guilty finding received more than one sentence, compared with 44% of youth court cases.

The most serious type of sentence is custody, which was imposed in 39% of adult criminal court cases that resulted in a guilty finding in 2017/2018, up from 34% of such cases in 2008/2009. This percentage varies by jurisdiction. In 2017/2018, 66% of cases that resulted in a guilty finding in Prince Edward Island received a custody sentence, the highest among all provinces and territories, compared with 29% in Nova Scotia, the lowest. The high proportion observed in Prince Edward Island may be explained in part by the high percentage of impaired driving cases resulting in a guilty finding that received a custody sentence (90% in 2017/2018) compared with the rest of Canada (8%).

In contrast, the YCJA places special emphasis on alternatives to a custody sentence. As a result, a custodial sentence was imposed in 13% of youth court cases that resulted in a guilty finding, down slightly from 15% in 2008/2009. This percentage also varies by jurisdiction, with Yukon (27%) reporting the highest percentage in 2017/2018 and Newfoundland and Labrador posting the lowest (5%).

The median length of a custodial sentence was 30 days in adult criminal court, unchanged from the previous year, while in youth court it rose from 54 days to 60 days in 2017/2018. The longer length seen in youth court is consistent with the YCJA principle that reserves custody for the most serious crimes, that is, the ones that tend to receive the longest sentences.

Probation was the most common type of sentence imposed in both adult criminal court (46% of cases resulting in a guilty finding) and youth court (58% of these cases) in 2017/2018.

  Note to readers

The data presented in this release are drawn from the adult portion (individuals aged 18 and older) and youth portion (individuals aged 12 to 17) of the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS). The ICCS collects administrative records of court appearances from the provincial and territorial departments responsible for criminal courts in Canada. Data are collected from all court levels (municipal, provincial and superior) for both adult criminal and youth courts.

For the purposes of this release, a completed case is defined as one or more charges against an accused person or company that were processed by the courts at the same time and received a final decision. This definition best mimics the way charges proceed through the courts.

In 2017/2018, information was unavailable from superior courts in Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan as well as from municipal courts in Quebec. Superior court data reported to the survey in 2017/2018 represented about 1% of all completed adult criminal court cases.

An upcoming Juristat article will present new criminal court workload and case processing indicators, which will include data on open cases to better represent the volume of work managed by Canadian criminal courts.

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Additional data are available upon request.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).

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