Section 3.1 and the Effect of Judicial Acts: Episode Four Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada

The following is the text version of Episode Four of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada. At the bottom of the text is the actual podcast. However, I do encourage you to read the text as well and follow the hyperlinks to the cases and other websites to which I refer. Enjoy!

Welcome to Episode Four of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada. My name is Lisa Silver and today we are discussing section 3.1 of the Code, which is entitled “Effect of Judicial Acts.” When I started researching this seemingly innocuous procedure section I uncovered some extremely interesting connections that I am really excited to share with you. So let’s dig deep into section 3.1!

First, I want to set the stage, so to speak, on this section and there are many ways to do this. As I already said, this section is a procedure section. What does that mean? A procedure section involves the process in criminal law as opposed to a substantive law section, which sets out the essential elements of criminal offences or the substance of criminal law.  Criminal procedure is just a set of rules on how that substantive law is enforced and implemented through the criminal justice system. I will reserve a fuller explanation for my blog “basics of Canadian criminal law” series – coming soon.  So, section 3.1 involves the rules of criminal process.

The placement of s. 3.1 is also of importance. Last podcast, when I introduced s. 3.1 as my next podcast, I did so by identifying the section with its place in the Code. I said that s. 3.1 was the first section to come under Part I of the Code, known as the “General” Part. Oddly enough, when I looked at my annotated Criminal Code, being Martin’s Annual Criminal Code, section 3.1 is not placed under Part 1 General Part but is found under the previous interpretation segment discussed in the last three previous podcasts! To make sure I was not mistaken in my podcast placement, I checked the actual statute as found on both the Department of Justice website and canlii (Canadian Legal Information Institute) website and found that s. 3.1 is found under the General Part as I indicated.

So is s. 3.1 an interpretation section or is it a General Part section? With all due respect to my favourite annotated Code, I submit section 3.1 properly comes under the General Part as a matter of process as opposed to a matter of interpretation. Also, Martin’s rival, Tremeer’s Criminal Code, which my husband favours, places section 3.1 as the statute does, under the General Part I. Now that would make a good future blog discussion on the various Criminal Codes, both annotated and not, and their history. Now back to this podcast.

You may wonder how there can be such a discrepancy. I can only speculate but as this section is a fairly recent amendment to the Code, from 2002, the publishers of Martin’s, Canada Law Book, simply placed it after section 3 as opposed to separating the two sections by placing them under different segments. Logically s. 3.1 should come after section 3 but really when the government amends the Code there is often no rhyme or reason to the numbering, as we will see. I mean, where else could they have put this section? I’ll have to think about that.

So we have physically placed the section and now I will read it to you:

Unless otherwise provided or ordered, anything done by a court, justice or judge is effective from the moment it is done, whether or not it is reduced to writing.

What exactly is this section doing? It is in essence creating a presumption. A presumption, which I will later argue is contrary to the common law. This section is telling us that when a court or a specific judicial officer does something – any action such as an order – that act is effective immediately, no matter how it is communicated. So, the presumption is for immediacy. The presumption is however rebuttable, meaning that the court or judge when he does the act can say the act does not take effect immediately. However, if the court or judge says nothing about the time of effectiveness, the presumption is for immediacy.

Okay. That makes sense. When someone does something they mean it to be done asap unless they indicate otherwise – brings to mind Yul Brynner as Ramses II in the Ten Commandments when he says “so let it be written, so let it be done.” Of course, this is as opposed to Yul as the King of Siam in the King and I where he adds onto all of his orders “etc., etc., etc.”

It makes sense to be sure but why did the government add this and why did they only add this in 2002?  In order to find out why they added this section, we turn to the Parliamentary records. This section was part of an omnibus Bill C-15 also known as the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2001, brought in by the then Liberal Government and sponsored by the then Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, the Honourable Anne McLellan. It is amusing and ironic to read the debate on this bill as the opposition, namely the then Canadian Alliance through Vic Toews as the Justice critic, bash the bill because of its omnibus nature. Agreed the bill is an odd mix of Criminal Code amendments, everything from procedural changes such as 3.1 to “animal cruelty, child pornography, and firearms,” but this practice of kitchen-sink amending appears to be pro forma today.

In McLellan’s speech to kick-start the debate on the second reading of the Bill, she stated:

Let me turn briefly to the area of criminal procedure reform. The Department of Justice has been working closely with the provinces and territories on criminal procedure reform for some years. This work is now in its third phase. The objectives of phase three are to simplify trial procedure, modernize the criminal justice system and enhance its efficiency through the increased use of technology, better protect victims and witnesses in criminal trials, and provide speedy trials in accordance with charter requirements. We are trying to bring criminal procedure into the 21st century. This phase reflects our efforts to modernize our procedure without in any way reducing the measure of justice provided by the system. As I said at the outset, the provinces and territories support these reforms. As they are responsible for the administration of justice, I believe that we should do our best to give them the tools they need to ensure the efficient and effective operation of the criminal justice system.

It appears then the amendment was for efficiency and modernization, particularly as a result of the increased use of technology. This is consistent with the legislative history of the amendments, which gives the “key thrust” of the bill is to provide for the use of electronic documents. In terms of section 3.1, the document states:

As a general matter, clause 2 of the bill ensures the legality and immediate effectiveness of judicial acts from the moment they are done, whether or not they are reduced to writing.  This provision ensures the validity of judicial acts made in a number of circumstances where hard-copy documentary proof of the act is not immediately generated.   Such situations could include judicial decisions in the form of orders or warrants which may be issued electronically or orally by telephone or some other form of audio or audio-visual communications link.

There may be another reason for this change as well. Such a rule, albeit worded differently, is found in some provincial rules of court. Each court level has rules to assist them in the nuts and bolts of the organization and maintenance of the courts as well as procedure. Criminal procedure, as a result of s. 91(27) the Constitution Act, 1867, is within the power of Parliament, while s. 92(14) gives the provinces the power to administer justice in the province through rules on civil procedure and the “constitution, maintenance, and organization” of the civil and criminal courts. In terms of civil procedure each provinces rules of court apply. There are also criminal rules, which tend to the organizational side, leaving the procedure, as required by the Constitution Act, with the feds.

Just looking at the Alberta Rules of Court, which were completely overhauled in 2010, rule 9.6 states that the effective date of “every judgment and every order” is on the “date of pronouncement” unless the court orders otherwise. It is similar to section 3.1 yet different. The civil rule is restricted to judgments and orders and to “pronouncements.” According to various dictionaries, “pronouncement” means a formal declaration, usually a judgment. Of course, the Criminal Code section applies to any act of the court and is therefore much broader.

Now we understand why the government decided to put this section into the Code but what is the effect of this effect of judicial acts? For that we are going to look at some case law and the concept of functus. The word functus is from the Latin word fungor, which means to execute or administer or to discharge. When used in its legal sense, it refers to the phrase functus officio, when a judge has exhausted his or her authority over the matter and can no longer alter his or her decision. It typically applies to final decisions of the court. A judge would be functus officio when he or she acquits an accused of a criminal offence. That finding is final, in the sense, that judge no longer has any power over the accused and the case. In other words, the judge cannot re-open the case or amend a final decision unless there has been an administrative “slip” in the decision or “error in expressing the manifest intention of the court.” Instead, there are appellate remedies but the trial judge is now functus and out of the game.

The concept or doctrine of functus officio originally comes from English common law on the premise that we need some finality in court in order for parties to an action to have finality as well. However, this common law rule applied to the final formal judgment and did not apply to any and all acts done by the judge. In fact the common law rule made allowances for informal reasons that may be changed. That is still the law in England, where there is “within the powers of a judge to reconsider his or her decision at any time before it is entered and perfected.” Section 3.1 has now changed the common law. This was recognized in 2004 in the Alberta Queen’s Bench decision in R. v. Harris.

Next podcast, we will be dealing with section 4, which can be viewed as an omnibus section of unrelated statements regarding interpretation of the application of criminal law. It does sound as if this section should be in that interpretation segment but we will see that this section goes further than interpretation to position all users of the Criminal Code on common ground. In this way, this section truly deals with generalities and thus properly in the General Part of the Code.

 

Episode Four Ideablawg Podcast on Section 3.1 and the effect of Judicial Acts

Part One of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Decisions In The Sniffer Dog Cases: Don’t Throw Out The Principle With The Bath Water!

Question: When is a legal principle clarified by unanimous court but when the principle must subsequently be applied, unanimity goes out the window? Answer: When the Supreme Court of Canada delivers a much anticipated and needed decision on an issue, which, depending on the outcome, may change the face of police investigatory practice. That is the case, of course, in the two sniffer dog decisions in Chehil and MacKenzie, which were supposed to clarify the standard of “reasonable suspicion.” However, instead of the much-needed direction from the Court, the Supreme Court of Canada leaves us with a ruling that fails to clarify. As we all know, legal principles do not live in a vacuum and if they cannot be applied consistently and with some prediction, then the principle becomes a tool of the law and not the rule of law.

Still, the cases do tell us something, about which I have consistently written: that a seemingly objective standard is a fallacy as it is applied through the subjective sensibilities of the assessor, the judge, and in the context of facts, which themselves are founded on a subjective view of the receiver. Chehil and MacKenzie are cases in point: Chehil sets out the principle, to which everyone on the Court agrees, while MacKenzie applies it through the judicial lens. Unfortunately, the judicial lens is of varying strengths and degrees: not everyone on the Court sees matters the same way. The decision is therefore a fractious one. If our Supreme Court of Canada cannot agree then how can the majority, written by Justice Moldaver as I predicted, find the trial judge, who heard the evidence, is wrong. Can one even be wrong when applying an objective reasonable person standard? Are there two reasonable people? Do we even know how a reasonable person thinks? Ah, there’s the rub and there is the tautology: objective standards are only as good as the facts behind them.

If the above seems like a rant, well I suppose it is: the decisions, when read together are puzzling. Moldaver’s MacKenzie decision is even more so when read against the trial judge’s reasons. Unfortunately, one cannot get beyond the admonition of the trial judge when he found it possible “that the observations of the accused claimed to have been noticed by Cst. Sperle were enhanced after the drugs were located.” This kind of after the fact decision-making seems to permeate the SCC decision too but understandably so as in fact there were drugs found and the accused was a drug courier. But what we must all keep in mind is the purpose of the Charter is not to exonerate criminals but to provide oversight when the awesome powers of the state are used,  in whatever circumstances. Just as innocent people may come under scrutiny in a criminal investigation, as pointed out by Madame Justice Karakatsanis in Chehil, so too seemingly guilty people will benefit from inappropriate state intrusion. This is what safeguards our fundamental principles in a free and democratic society.

It is in this context that we must review and analyze these cases. In part two of my case comment, I will do just that.

 

 

THOUGHTS ON THE INTERSECTION OF LAW AND ART: LEGAL ARCHITECTURE

I recently read a compilation of essays, in a work from an outstanding publishing house Sternberg Press, Thousand Eyes: Media Technology, Law and Aesthetics, on the connection between contemporary art and law, particularly courts of law, where the art theory concept of “representation” and the physical and legal attributes of law intersect through the courtroom. From that connection the comparative analyses are many and varied: the courtroom as theatre, evidence as iconoclastic images, and the changing role of new media. But what struck me was the concept of the law court as a bounded space, which reinforces the separateness of the law world from the real world.

In his essay In Between: Power and Procedure Where the Court meets the Public Sphere, Richard Mohr observes the fixity of our courts within a self-constructed bounded space and the resultant tension between those inside, the legal players, and those outside, the public. He argues this border between the two is not just physical but conceptual as well. Not only does the courtroom have a fixed address with an enclosed space but the rules or procedures too emphasis closure through the rules of evidence, which permit only certain forms of approved facts into its space. This closing off of the law not only impacts public access but also public perception.

Other essays in the collection go further and suggest the advent of new media and the relaxation of media in the courtroom has expanded the courtroom walls and changed the static concept of law. However, one of the editors, Judy Radul for whom the essays were published to celebrate her World Rehearsal Court exhibition, in her essay, Video Chamber, argues to the contrary: in her view, the ability of the courts to be connected elsewhere through, for example, CCTV, makes the court an even more enclosed space “monolithic and unmovable” as the court hunkers down, forever fixed in place, as the images come to it.

The legal architecture then becomes an impactful aspect of the law, particularly in light of the access to justice issues Canada has been recently facing. It may also impact how the Supreme Court of Canada view evidentiary rules: should they unbind the courtroom or provide further enclosure?

The connections between art and law may, at first glance, appear superficial: yes, the lawyers are like actors in a Shakespearean play, albeit their backs are usually to the audience. However, when viewed through the lens of art theory, the representational force of the law cannot be doubted. This is something to think about when arguing in the bounded space of the law.

 

 

 

 

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The Magnotta Case And The Exclusion of the Public

The details of the allegation are disturbing: a scandalous luring of a University student, a gruesome murder, a grisly dismemberment, and then a twisted disposal of the body parts, via mail, to elementary schools. Then the chase across Europe and odd sightings of a man, we know as Luka Magnotta, until the capture is made, almost innocently, as Magnotta in a German Internet Café surfed the web for the disturbing details of his own case. In a previous post, I discussed the extradition issues with the case but Magnotta, by consent, returned quietly to Canada to face a number of charges, including  first-degree murder under s. 231 of the Criminal Code, committing indignities to a human corpse under s.182 of the Criminal Code, mailing obscene materials under s.168 of the Criminal Code, publishing obscene materials under s.163 of the Criminal Code and threatening Prime Minister Stephen Harper under s.264.1 of the Criminal Code.

Now, with the start of Magnotta’s preliminary inquiry, the case is back in the media spotlight as Magnotta’s defence attempts to exclude the media and public from hearing the preliminary inquiry evidence. Today, Quebec Court Judge Lori-Renée Weitzman denied the defence request.

But what was this request all about?

A preliminary inquiry, as I explained in a previous post, is a procedure to determine if there is any evidence upon which a reasonable jury properly instructed could return a verdict of guilty. This vetting process is permitted for only those indictable offences, which the accused has elected to be tried before a superior court judge. The hearing is heard before a provincial court judge who hears the evidence and decides whether to commit the accused for trial on the charges or any other charges arising out of the evidence or to discharge the accused for the lack of evidence on an essential element of any of the charges. It should be noted that the “right” to a preliminary inquiry is not absolute. The accused can waive the preliminary inquiry and consent to committal on all or some of the charges. The Attorney General can also circumvent a preliminary inquiry by preferring a direct indictment under s.577 of the Criminal Code. In that case, no preliminary inquiry takes place and the matter proceeds directly to trial in superior court.

The powers of a judge sitting as a preliminary inquiry judge are many and varied and set out in s. 537 of the Criminal Code. As a matter of course, the preliminary inquiry judge will order a ban on publishing the evidence heard under s.539 of the Criminal Code. This is done to preserve the integrity of the trial process, particularly where the trial will be before a judge and jury. A publication ban will ensure that the public remains impartial and ensures that evidence, which might become inadmissible at trial, is not within the public domain. However, such a ban on publication does not include a ban on the public attending the inquiry to hear the evidence first hand. It merely bans publication or distribution of such evidence heard.

The Magnotta defence, however, wanted the judge to go that extra step by banning the public from attending the inquiry under s.537(1)(h), which gives the judge the power to “order that no person other than the prosecutor, the accused and their counsel shall have access to or remain in the room in which the inquiry is held, where it appears to him that the ends of justice will be best served by so doing.” There is also a general power to exclude the public under s. 486 of the Criminal Code on the basis that the judge “is of the opinion that such an order is in the interest of public morals, the maintenance of order or the proper administration of justice or is necessary to prevent injury to international relations or national defence or national security.”

Although the reasons for dismissing the application has yet to be released online, it is instructive to review two other equally disturbing infamous cases of Paul Bernardo and Robert Pickton, where somewhat similar requests were made, in an attempt to understand the dynamics of such an application. In Pickton, the defence made a motion for exclusion of the public on the basis the case was so media intensive and with thestate of modern-day publication technology,

” a simple ban on publication of the evidence would not serve the ends of justice and would not preserve the accused’s right to be tried before a fair and impartial tribunal. This was particularly so, submitted the defence, as the American media was not bound to the order and could, therefore, publish the evidence thereby tainting the jury pool once the matter came to trial. In dismissing the application, except for permitting the usual ban on publication, and leaving open the defence’s right to re-open the application, Judge Stone recognized “the conflicts which arise between our tradition of open access to the courts and the principles encompassed by the right of freedom of expression versus the rights provided to an accused person in order to ensure that he or she receives a fair trial.” Even in that context, Judge Stone recognized, as emphasized in the Supreme Court of Canada Dagenais case that such an order was “exceptional.” Ultimately, Judge Stone agreed with Justice Oppal of the British Columbia Supreme Court, wherein Justice Oppal stated in the Murrin case: We live in an era that is often marked by high degrees of pretrial publicity which often features revelations of prejudicial pretrial evidence. In fact, it can be safely said that sometimes media coverage can be described as frenzied. However, I do not think that the justice system is so fragile that appropriate corrective measures cannot be taken in certain cases so as to ensure that an accused's right to a fair trial is not jeopardized.

In the end, the Judge released a very specific ban on publication, specifically prohibiting the information to be placed on the Internet. As an aside, in the 1996 SCC Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. New Brunswick (Attorney General) case, the SCC sets out specific factors in considering such a ban in light of the conflicting Charter rights of an accused's right to fair trial and the right to public access to our criminal justice system as well as freedom of the press under s.7 and s.2(b).

Conversely, in the Bernardo case, it was the Crown and the families of the victims, which requested an order prohibiting the public from hearing and watching the videotape recordings of the crime when presented as evidence in court.  The court permitted this limited ban out of public decency and respect for the victims. Ultimately, the tapes were destroyed.

Of course, although the application was dismissed for Magnotta, this will not be the end of the matter. As the case goes to trial, there will, no doubt, be a revisiting of this issue of publicity and publication of the case in the media. At that time, the issue will be whether or not an impartial jury can indeed be found in light of the intense media exposure of the case and ultimately whether even the worst allegations can produce a fair trial.