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This article was published 13/7/2015 (1593 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Police officers will no longer have to attend court to testify when speeding tickets are appealed, under the provincial government's impending changes.
Officers will instead file written statements that will be presented in court.
The move is expected to reduce expensive police overtime and streamline the system, which is mired in backlogs.
But the new system raises concerns about the civil rights of accused people. When people appealing their tickets are no longer automatically entitled to have the ticketing officer present in court, it limits their ability to cross-examine the officer.
"Every person who is an accused person, whether it be speeding or murder, has the right to challenge or hear the evidence of their accuser in court, and by documentary evidence we have no opportunity to ask them questions," said Len Eastoe of Traffic Ticket Experts in Winnipeg. "Sometimes the documentary evidence may not be sufficient to answer all (of our) questions."
Eastoe is a former police officer who helps people fight their traffic tickets.
'Every person who is an accused person, whether it be speeding or murder, has the right to challenge or hear the evidence of their accuser in court, and by documentary evidence we have no opportunity to ask them questions' — Len Eastoe of Traffic Ticket Experts (right)
The incoming rules are supposed to overhaul a system burdened by long delays and expensive trials. Police officers are often paid overtime to attend court, and court dates have to be decided according to when officers can be present, complicating scheduling.
The delay in getting a court date is extraordinarily long. If an accused driver files today to appeal a ticket, they can expect to be assigned a court date as late as December 2016 — forcing them to try to recollect details of an alleged offence that happened 17 months earlier.
The rules are part of the Provincial Offences Act, which was passed in 2013 but is not yet in effect, and replace the 50-year-old Summary Convictions Act that was in need of an overhaul.
The government is changing its computer systems and paperwork to deal with the new procedures.
Using certificate evidence is an option for the government under the new law, and is set to be used in particular for speeding tickets, according to Heather Leonoff, head of Manitoba's constitutional law branch.
She said the government has not set a specific date when certificate evidence will replace officers attending court in person to testify.
The certificate would include details from an officer about the equipment that was used to record the speed and technical details about whether it was in proper working condition.
The officer could be a police officer or other enforcement officer such as photo-radar operators from a private company the city is using.
"What we have found is rarely are people saying, 'I wasn't going that speed,' " Leonoff said.
Most people said they didn't see the correct signage, had problems with their speedometer or other issues, and rarely is it that the officer recorded the wrong speed.
In these cases, the certificate evidence is better than having officers attend court "which is very expensive, and gets them off the street doing policing," Leonoff said.
"The protection is that if they need the officer, the justice hearing the case can adjourn it and make the officer attend," Leonoff added.
While defendants will be able to ask the judge to have the officer attend, it is up to the accused to convince the court the officer should attend.
"If I'm having to convince a (judge) why a witness should be there, I'm going to have to give up part of either my trial strategy or what I think the evidence should be or what my evidence is, and that's not the way it should be," said Cassandra Loiselle-Walker, a court agent with Merits of Manitoba.
"The Crown has the obligation to prove the charge. I shouldn't have to prove my innocence to have the officer attend."
In 2014, Winnipeg police recorded 93,116 offences using mobile photo radar, up from 74,897 in 2013 and 45,735 in 2012.
The number of drivers appealing tickets also jumped in 2014, with 8,453 ongoing cases versus 2,472 in 2013 for all photo-enforcement offences (including intersection cameras).
But Eastoe said this doesn't justify the new certificate evidence rules.
"It takes away from the civil rights of every accused person. They can find other efficiencies in the system if they wanted to — there are much better ways to do this than doing it on the backs of and the rights of every accused person," he said.
Several key facts can surface through questioning an officer, Eastoe said, particularly whether they ticketed the right car.
Other factors include whether the surrounding traffic was taken into account and whether there were similar vehicles in the area.
With the written statements, officers can add what they think is important, limiting the ability for court agents to ask other questions before putting their clients on the stand, Eastoe said.
He also points out a double standard,. Drivers appealing tickets usually can't submit written statements from witnesses because the Crown attorneys need to be able to cross-examine the witnesses in person.
"Yet all of a sudden, on the backs of the accused, they're going to take their rights away and allow that type of evidence in," Eastoe said.
Updated on Monday, July 13, 2015 at 6:20 AM CDT: Replaces photo
12:18 PM: Adds chart.