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Abuse of Process - Stay Remedy

. R. v. Babos

In R. v. Babos (SCC, 2014) the Supreme Court of Canada considers when an abuse of process may justify a stay, here in a criminal case:
[1] This appeal provides the Court with an opportunity to revisit the law of abuse of process as it relates to state conduct that impinges on the integrity of the justice system but does not affect trial fairness — sometimes referred to as the “residual category” of cases for which a judicial stay of proceedings may be ordered. In particular, we are tasked with clarifying the approach to be followed when determining whether a stay of proceedings should be ordered where such conduct is uncovered.


A. Abuse of Process and Stays of Proceedings

[30] A stay of proceedings is the most drastic remedy a criminal court can order (R. v. Regan, 2002 SCC 12, [2002] 1 S.C.R. 297, at para. 53). It permanently halts the prosecution of an accused. In doing so, the truth-seeking function of the trial is frustrated and the public is deprived of the opportunity to see justice done on the merits. In many cases, alleged victims of crime are deprived of their day in court.

[31] Nonetheless, this Court has recognized that there are rare occasions —the “clearest of cases” — when a stay of proceedings for an abuse of process will be warranted (R. v. O’Connor, 1995 CanLII 51 (SCC), [1995] 4 S.C.R. 411, at para. 68). These cases generally fall into two categories: (1) where state conduct compromises the fairness of an accused’s trial (the “main” category); and (2) where state conduct creates no threat to trial fairness but risks undermining the integrity of the judicial process (the “residual” category) (O’Connor, at para. 73). The impugned conduct in this case does not implicate the main category. Rather, it falls squarely within the latter category.

[32] The test used to determine whether a stay of proceedings is warranted is the same for both categories and consists of three requirements:
(1) There must be prejudice to the accused’s right to a fair trial or the integrity of the justice system that “will be manifested, perpetuated or aggravated through the conduct of the trial, or by its outcome” (Regan, at para. 54);

(2) There must be no alternative remedy capable of redressing the prejudice; and

(3) Where there is still uncertainty over whether a stay is warranted after steps (1) and (2), the court is required to balance the interests in favour of granting a stay, such as denouncing misconduct and preserving the integrity of the justice system, against “the interest that society has in having a final decision on the merits” (ibid., at para. 57).
[33] The test is the same for both categories because concerns regarding trial fairness and the integrity of the justice system are often linked and regularly arise in the same case. Having one test for both categories creates a coherent framework that avoids “schizophrenia” in the law (O’Connor, at para. 71). But while the framework is the same for both categories, the test may — and often will — play out differently depending on whether the “main” or “residual” category is invoked.

[34] Commencing with the first stage of the test, when the main category is invoked, the question is whether the accused’s right to a fair trial has been prejudiced and whether that prejudice will be carried forward through the conduct of the trial; in other words, the concern is whether there is ongoing unfairness to the accused.

[35] By contrast, when the residual category is invoked, the question is whether the state has engaged in conduct that is offensive to societal notions of fair play and decency and whether proceeding with a trial in the face of that conduct would be harmful to the integrity of the justice system. To put it in simpler terms, there are limits on the type of conduct society will tolerate in the prosecution of offences. At times, state conduct will be so troublesome that having a trial — even a fair one — will leave the impression that the justice system condones conduct that offends society’s sense of fair play and decency. This harms the integrity of the justice system. In these kinds of cases, the first stage of the test is met.

[36] In Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Tobiass, 1997 CanLII 322 (SCC), [1997] 3 S.C.R. 391, this Court described the residual category in the following way:
For a stay of proceedings to be appropriate in a case falling into the residual category, it must appear that the state misconduct is likely to continue in the future or that the carrying forward of the prosecution will offend society’s sense of justice. Ordinarily, the latter condition will not be met unless the former is as well — society will not take umbrage at the carrying forward of a prosecution unless it is likely that some form of misconduct will continue. There may be exceptional cases in which the past misconduct is so egregious that the mere fact of going forward in the light of it will be offensive. But such cases should be relatively very rare. [para. 91]
[37] Two points of interest arise from this description. First, while it is generally true that the residual category will be invoked as a result of state misconduct, this will not always be so. Circumstances may arise where the integrity of the justice system is implicated in the absence of misconduct. Repeatedly prosecuting an accused for the same offence after successive juries have been unable to reach a verdict stands as an example (see, e.g., R. v. Keyowski, 1988 CanLII 74 (SCC), [1988] 1 S.C.R. 657), as does using the criminal courts to collect a civil debt (see, e.g., R. v. Waugh (1985), 1985 CanLII 3557 (NS CA), 68 N.S.R. (2d) 247 (S.C., App. Div.)).

[38] Second, in a residual category case, regardless of the type of conduct complained of, the question to be answered at the first stage of the test is the same: whether proceeding in light of the impugned conduct would do further harm to the integrity of the justice system. While I do not question the distinction between ongoing and past misconduct, it does not completely resolve the question of whether carrying on with a trial occasions further harm to the justice system. The court must still consider whether proceeding would lend judicial condonation to the impugned conduct.

[39] At the second stage of the test, the question is whether any other remedy short of a stay is capable of redressing the prejudice. Different remedies may apply depending on whether the prejudice relates to the accused’s right to a fair trial (the main category) or whether it relates to the integrity of the justice system (the residual category). Where the concern is trial fairness, the focus is on restoring an accused’s right to a fair trial. Here, procedural remedies, such as ordering a new trial, are more likely to address the prejudice of ongoing unfairness. Where the residual category is invoked, however, and the prejudice complained of is prejudice to the integrity of the justice system, remedies must be directed towards that harm. It must be remembered that for those cases which fall solely within the residual category, the goal is not to provide redress to an accused for a wrong that has been done to him or her in the past. Instead, the focus is on whether an alternate remedy short of a stay of proceedings will adequately dissociate the justice system from the impugned state conduct going forward.

[40] Finally, the balancing of interests that occurs at the third stage of the test takes on added significance when the residual category is invoked. This Court has stated that the balancing need only be undertaken where there is still uncertainty as to whether a stay is appropriate after the first two parts of the test have been completed (Tobiass, at para. 92). When the main category is invoked, it will often be clear by the time the balancing stage has been reached that trial fairness has not been prejudiced or, if it has, that another remedy short of a stay is available to address the concern. In those cases, no balancing is required. In rare cases, it will be evident that state conduct has permanently prevented a fair trial from taking place. In these “clearest of cases”, the third and final balancing step will often add little to the inquiry, as society has no interest in unfair trials.

[41] However, when the residual category is invoked, the balancing stage takes on added importance. Where prejudice to the integrity of the justice system is alleged, the court is asked to decide which of two options better protects the integrity of the system: staying the proceedings, or having a trial despite the impugned conduct. This inquiry necessarily demands balancing. The court must consider such things as the nature and seriousness of the impugned conduct, whether the conduct is isolated or reflects a systemic and ongoing problem, the circumstances of the accused, the charges he or she faces, and the interests of society in having the charges disposed of on the merits.[5] Clearly, the more egregious the state conduct, the greater the need for the court to dissociate itself from it. When the conduct in question shocks the community’s conscience and/or offends its sense of fair play and decency, it becomes less likely that society’s interest in a full trial on the merits will prevail in the balancing process. But in residual category cases, balance must always be considered.

[42] This Court’s recent decision in R. v. Bellusci, 2012 SCC 44, [2012] 2 S.C.R. 509, attests to the need for balancing when the conduct in question falls solely within the residual category. In Bellusci, the accused was assaulted in the back of a van by a prison guard while he was shackled and handcuffed. The accused was charged with assaulting the guard and intimidating a justice system participant. Fish J., writing for a unanimous Court, upheld the trial judge’s decision to issue a stay of proceedings for state misconduct falling in the residual category. In doing so, he noted that the trial judge had
appreciated the need to balance the competing interests at play in contemplating a stay of proceedings. He expressly took into account the difficult position of prison guards, the importance to the justice system of ensuring their protection, the seriousness of the charges against the accused, the integrity of the justice system, and the nature and gravity of the violation of Mr. Bellusci’s rights. Only then did he conclude that a stay was warranted. [Emphasis added; para. 29.]
[43] The Ontario Court of Appeal has also recently emphasized the importance of the balancing stage when the residual category is in issue:
In some sense, an accused who is granted a stay under the residual category realizes a windfall. Thus, it is important to consider if the price of the stay of a charge against a particular accused is worth the gain. Does the advantage of staying the charges against this accused outweigh the interest in having the case decided on the merits? In answering that question, a court will almost inevitably have to engage in the type of balancing exercise that is referred to in the third criterion. [Emphasis added.]
(R. v. Zarinchang, 2010 ONCA 286, 99 O.R. (3d) 721, at para. 60)

[44] Undoubtedly, the balancing of societal interests that must take place and the “clearest of cases” threshold presents an accused who seeks a stay under the residual category with an onerous burden. Indeed, in the residual category, cases warranting a stay of proceedings will be “exceptional” and “very rare” (Tobiass, at para. 91). But this is as it should be. It is only where the “affront to fair play and decency is disproportionate to the societal interest in the effective prosecution of criminal cases” that a stay of proceedings will be warranted (R. v. Conway, 1989 CanLII 66 (SCC), [1989] 1 S.C.R. 1659, at p. 1667).

[45] To recapitulate, while the framework is the same for both categories, the test may — and often will — play out differently depending on whether the “main” or “residual” category is invoked.

[46] The following hypothetical may serve as a useful illustration. Take a case where it is discovered, after trial, that the police have tampered with the jury in order to secure the conviction of an accused. Manifestly, the police conduct would impinge on the accused’s right to a fair trial — but it would also impinge on the integrity of the justice system.

[47] Ordering a new trial would probably redress the unfairness of the original trial. But the inquiry would not end there. The court would also have to decide whether ordering a new trial, or some other remedy, would suffice to dissociate it from the prejudice occasioned to the integrity of the justice system by the police misconduct. If no remedy would suffice, the court would have to engage in the balancing process and determine whether the integrity of the justice system would be better served by a stay of proceedings or a full trial on the merits. Given the seriousness of the misconduct — jury tampering strikes at the very heart of the criminal justice system — the residual category might well necessitate a stay of proceedings to redress the threat to the integrity of the justice system, even though the unfairness that marred the first trial could be cured by a second trial.
. Waxman v. Waxman

In Waxman v. Waxman (Ont CA, 2022) the Court of Appeal considered a permanent stay as a remedy at trial for non-disclosure of litigation-related settlements which the court held to be an abuse of process:
[42] The appellants argue that an automatic stay is a “draconian” remedy for abuse of process in a case such as this and that the motion judge should have exercised his discretion to redress the failure to disclose through other means.

[43] The appellants further submit that while an automatic stay may be justified in the face of Mary Carter agreements that are not disclosed, in this case, “the plaintiffs did nothing wrong and did not deceive or mislead anyone.” They argue the motion judge erred by applying an automatic stay in these circumstances without considering the alternatives.

[44] I disagree.

[45] In Aecon, MacFarland J.A. stated, at para. 16:
The obligation of immediate disclosure is clear and unequivocal. It is not optional. Any failure of compliance amounts to abuse of process and must result in consequences of the most serious nature for the defaulting party. Where, as here, the failure amounts to abuse of process, the only remedy to redress the wrong is to stay the Third Party proceedings and of course, by necessary implication, the Fourth Party proceedings commenced at the instance of the Third Party. Only by imposing consequences of the most serious nature on the defaulting party is the court able to enforce and control its own process and ensure that justice is done between and among the parties. To permit the litigation to proceed without disclosure of agreements such as the one in issue renders the process a sham and amounts to a failure of justice. [Emphasis added.]
[46] Citing Aecon, the motion judge reiterated, at para. 44, “The Court of Appeal described the obligation to disclose as clear and unequivocal and noted that its breach constituted an abuse of process. Only by imposing a stay is the court able to control and enforce its own process to ensure that justice is done.”

[47] I see no basis on the facts of this case to depart from the clear consequences for a breach of this principle set out by this court in Aecon and affirmed a number of times since then, including in Handley Estate, at para. 45, and most recently in Tallman, at para. 28. In Tallman, after imposing the automatic stay as the only remedy appropriate for an undisclosed settlement agreement, the court added, at para. 28, “This remedy is designed to achieve justice between the parties. But it does more than that – it also enables the court to enforce and control its own process by deterring future breaches of this well-established rule.”


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