Informing with Open Data: Youth Case Processing in Nova Scotia

Reducing court delays and improving the efficacy and efficiency which the criminal justice system handles the cases of young persons remains a priority in Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotia Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to work with justice system stakeholders (e.g., the Crown, judiciary, Legal Aid, police) to identify ways to reduce case processing times and to meet the 98-day youth case processing target, which was established in response to the Nunn Commission recommendations.
In June 2005, the Government of Nova Scotia appointed the Honourable D. Merlin Nunn as Commissioner of the public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the release of a youth who was subsequently involved in a fatal car crash. The result of the Nunn Commission was a 381-page report entitled, Spiraling out of control: Lessons learned from a boy in trouble. Commissioner Nunn submitted his report on December 5, 2006, which contained 34 recommendations in three core areas:
  • Youth justice administration and accountability;
  • Youth crime legislation; and
  • Prevention of youth crime in the province.
The DOJ accepted Commissioner Nunn’s recommendations, which included several directly related to reducing delays and improving the speed of youth-involved cases within the youth criminal justice system in Nova Scotia, from arrest to sentencing or other final disposition (“youth case processing”). The DOJ first reported youth case processing times in June 2007 with the release of the Government’s response to the Nunn Commission.

Understanding Youth Case Processing Data

The DOJ measures case processing time as the elapsed days from the accused’s first hearing in the case to the hearing at which all charges reach a final disposition. The case processing data is used to inform the DOJ and its partners about whether targets are being met and where improvements are required.
In 2017, the DOJ modified its definition of a case as “one or more charges filed against the same person on the same Information or Summary Offence Ticket (SOT)”. The new definition was adopted in consultation with justice system stakeholders to better reflect the progression of cases through the Nova Scotia Courts. As a result of this change, data in this report is not comparable to reports produced prior to 2017, nor is the data comparable to the case processing data published by Statistics Canada.


The following are definitions of some of the terms used in the sections above and below.
Bench warrant: Warrant issued for the arrest of the accused following a failure to abide by the courts orders or direction to appear before the court.
Case: One or more charges filed against the same person on the same Summary Offence Ticket (SOT) or Information.
Final Disposition: The final outcome of a case. When an acquittal, dismissal, or sentence has been entered in the case or proceeding, the judgment has become final.
First hearing: First appearance for a case in youth court.
Information: Charging document issued by peace officers against one or more persons for one of more offences.
Justice Centre: The main courthouse for the case. One Justice Centre may have satellite locations.
Justice of the Peace Centre: Court where the appointed presiding Justice of the Peace is able to issue warrants and conduct arraignments. Primarily used for matters that require after hours attention.
Median case processing time: The midpoint time at which half of the completed youth cases are shorter and half are longer.
Non-serious offence: Includes all offences not deemed “serious” (see serious offence below).
Serious offence: One or more of the following offences: murder, manslaughter, infanticide, criminal negligence causing death, other offences causing death, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, other sexual offences (i.e., sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, etc.), aggravated assault, assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, kidnapping, hostage taking, abduction under 16, child pornography (possession and production), robbery, extortion, use of explosives causing death/bodily harm, arson, Criminal Code motor vehicle offences which endanger the public (i.e., dangerous driving, impaired driving, and motor vehicle theft), firearms offences, and home invasions.
Summary Offence Ticket (SOT): Document issued by peace officers for offences under Nova Scotia laws (e.g., Motor Vehicle Act, municipal bylaws) and some federal laws. Does not include criminal charges.

Data available on the Open Data Portal

The DOJ produces annual data on the number of completed cases (case “volume”), case processing time, and the number of court appearances per case. The DOJ also provides detail on specific types of cases, including the type of offences (violent vs non-violent), the court location (Justice Centre), and cases that involve multiple charges.
Cases that involve Restorative Justice processes or bench warrants are excluded from the calculation of case processing times and case volumes. Restorative Justice involved cases are excluded because they take over 200 days (on average) to complete which artificially inflates overall processing times. Cases that involve bench warrants are also excluded because the Courts do not control the amount of time for the issued warrant to be executed. Any analysis of youth case processing volumes or times in this report applies only to cases that include at least one charge under a federal statute.

Youth Case Volume

The volume indicates the annual number of youth cases completed by the Nova Scotia Courts. The DOJ reports the volume of total cases and cases that exclude both Restorative Justice involvement and cases that had issued bench warrants.
In 2022-2023, the total number of completed youth cases in Nova Scotia Courts increased by 21% from 590 completed cases in 2021-2022 to 716 completed cases in 2022-2023. This was the first increase in since 2015-16. Of the 716 completed cases in 2022-2023, nearly 50% (355 cases) involved restorative justice (RJ) and/or a bench warrant (BW).
There were 361 completed youth cases that excluded RJ and/or a BW in 2022-2023, an increase of 28% (or 80 cases) from the previous year. All subsequent case processing data and analysis in this article exclude cases involving restorative justice and/or a bench warrant.
The following interactive chart provides details on case volume by offence type, location, and single vs. multiple charge cases.
In 2022-2023, youth case volumes ranged from a low of 6 cases at the Amherst and Antigonish Justice Centres to a high of 134 cases at the Halifax Justice Centre. The Halifax Justice Centre accounted for more than one-third (37%) of the total volume of youth cases in the province and also had the largest increase in completed cases (+53) since 2021-2022. Kentville had the largest decrease in completed cases from 44 in 2021-2022 to 27 in 2022-2023.
The number of cases involving a violent offence increased by 58% from 146 completed cases in 2021-2022 to 230 completed cases in 2022-2023. Overall, the proportion of cases involving a violent offence increased for the 7th consecutive year. In 2022-2023, 64% of completed cases involved a violent offence versus 52% in 2021-2022 and 36% in 2017-2018.
The number of single-charge cases increased by 40% from 121 cases in 2021-2022 to 170 cases in 2022-2023. The number of multiple-charge cases increased by 19% from 160 cases in 2021-2022 to 191 cases in 2022-2023. This was the first time multiple-charge cases has increased in the prior 6 years.

Youth Case Processing Time

The DOJ measures case processing time as the number of days between the first hearing to the hearing at which all charges reach a final disposition. This report uses the median case processing time as its metric. The median time is used instead of the average time because a small number of unusually long or short cases can easily inflate or diminish the statistic.
As part of the Nunn commission recommendations, the target time for youth cases to reach final disposition from the date of the first hearing was set at 98-days.
In 2022-2023, the median case processing time was 146 days, which is above the 98-day target, and an increase of 20 days from the previous year (126 days).
Overall, 39% of cases in 2022-2023 were completed at or below the 98-day threshold, which remains unchanged from the previous year.
The following interactive chart provides details on the median case processing time by offence type, location, and single vs. multiple charge cases.
In 2022-2023, only one Justice Centre (Amherst) had a median youth case processing time below the 98-day target. The median case processing time in Amherst was 57 days and the longest case processing time was 365 days (Kentville).
In 2022-2023, the median case processing time was longest for cases with a property offence (155 days), followed by cases with a violent offence (151 days) and cases with other offences (115 days).
In 2022-2023, the median case processing time for single-charge cases and multiple-charge cases was 127 days and 151 days, respectively.

Average Number of Youth Court Appearances

The average number of appearances in court for a youth case to reach a final disposition.
The average number of appearances for a youth case to reach a final disposition increased by 10% from 6 appearances in 2021-2022 to 6.6 appearances in 2022-2023. On average, cases involving non-violent and non-property offences (6.9 appearances) and violent offences (6.6 appearances) required the most appearances, while property offences required the least (6.4 appearances). The average number of appearances for single-charge cases and multiple-charge cases in 2022-2023 were 6.2 and 7, respectively.

Serious and Pending Charges in Youth Court

Based on the recommendation of Commissioner Nunn, the DOJ established a target of 7 days from the time a youth is charged with a serious offence to the time the youth first appears in court.
For youths charged with a non-serious offence and who have pending charges (three or more federal charges within the preceding year), a target of 7 days is set from the time the young person is charged to the time of their first appearance in youth court.
If youth’s first appearance is at a Justice of the Peace Centre, the next scheduled appearance date is used to measure the elapsed time for serious and pending charges. In a small number of instances, a bench warrant is issued or held at the first scheduled appearance at a JP Centre. These cases are excluded from the analysis of serious and pending charges.
In 2022-2023, serious charges took an average of 13 days to appear in youth court, 6 days longer than the 7-day target but a decrease of 5 days from 2021-2022 (18 days). Halifax was the only Justice Centre at or below the target with an average of 6.0 days in 2022-2023.
In 2022-2023, young persons charged with a non-serious offence and who had pending charges took an average of 9 days to appear in youth court, 2 days longer than the 7-day target. Halifax and Pictou were the only Justice Centres at or below the target with an average of 6.0 days and 2.0 days, respectively, in 2022-2023.

Reducing Case Processing Time

Improving case processing times requires a combined effort. The DOJ is working with justice stakeholders of the Police, Public Prosecution Services, Legal Aid, the Judiciary, Courts Services, and Correctional Services to reduce case processing times.
The Supreme Court of Canada decision, R. v. Jordan, has placed further emphasis on the need to reduce delay in the criminal court system. The DOJ continues to work with stakeholders and the judiciary to support innovative approaches to address delays. This includes leveraging technology such as video conferencing, teleconferencing and hybrid models for court appearances, electronic disclosure of records from police to Crown, and e-tracking of case progression. Innovative approaches to business practices are also underway, such as case triaging. As part of this approach, intake teams were established in the Halifax and Dartmouth Crown offices. These public prosecution teams complete thorough assessments of investigations and follow up with police to ensure files are trial-ready prior to setting dates. They also prepare an initial sentencing position to resolve matters with defence counsel to reach to an early resolution of matters before the court.

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