A Canadian criminal had his court case dropped after police claimed they could not find him – despite him already being in jail for a previous conviction.

Mark Nurse, 25, from Orangeville, Ontario, had been charged with three drug-related offences in May 2015. Police alleged that they found the accused in possession of cocaine and subsequently charged him with drug trafficking.

In July police at Orangeville Police Service issued a warrant for the man's arrest when they could not find him. Police say they searched his previous addresses to no avail and failed to check with nearby law enforcement on his whereabouts. Unbeknown to them, he was already serving time in another jurisdiction after pleading guilty to other drug offences.

Nurse was behind bars for a total of nine months from July 2015 to April 2016. Upon his release, Orangeville police travelled to his new address in Toronto and re-arrested him.

Following numerous delays, Nurse's trial date was finally set for May 2017 – over 22 and a half months after his initial charge date. His lawyer appealed citing a ruling from Canada's Supreme Court that states that cases should be taken to trial no longer than 18 months.

Justice Richard Schwarzl stated that the police delay was unacceptable and that police efforts to find him were "woefully hollow if not non-existent".

The lawyer for the accused, Mark Rieger, said that it was important to hold authorities to account over their lacklustre attempts to charge him: "A case like this really demonstrates a culture of complacency on the part of the police. Whether this translates to action, I don't know."

A spokesman for Orangeville police said the force accepted the decision and saw the procedural error as a "learning opportunity".

Canada police
File photo: Canadian police officer Blair Gable/Reuters