Criminal Law

Ghomeshi case put justice system on trial: Harnett

As Ontario Court Justice William Horkins is set to deliver his ruling on five charges against former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi, Toronto criminal lawyer Aaron Harnett tells that for many, the outcome of the high-profile trial will also be a rendering of the state of Canada’s justice system.

“This matter placed our system of criminal justice on trial — this will make the judge’s job particularly complicated and very important,” he tells the online legal publication. “Many see it as going beyond Mr. Ghomeshi’s legal problems.”

Harnett points to how victims’ advocates groups and some legal experts during the trial called for changes to the way the criminal justice system is set up to deal with sexual assault charges. Some said the system should differentiate sexual assault offences from other criminal offences in the way the courts hear the complaints.

“On its facts, this trial is a routine case, but because of the attention it has garnered and the debate it has sparked from the evidence in this matter, some have challenged the way the system handles these types of offences," he says.

“I’m hoping and expecting that this seasoned judge will come to the defence of the criminal justice system.”

Ghomeshi is charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking related to incidents in 2002 and 2003.

Harnett notes the outcome of the trial, during which Ghomeshi didn’t testify, will largely rest with the testimony of the three complainants.

He says he expects the judge to direct his judgment comments to the accused, the complainants and the public in general.

In addressing the accused, the judge will speak about whether the Crown proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt and will go through his analysis charge by charge.

Although the charges were part of the same trial, Harnett notes the judge will consider the charges separately because a similar-fact application wasn’t made by the Crown.

The judge will also explain in his judgment the analysis that he conducted of the complainants’ evidence, Harnett says.

“I expect that he is going to explain it in a manner for the complainants that is designed to respect their dignity in this process,” he says.

Harnett says the judge will also direct his comments to the public on the basic principles of criminal justice, such as the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof and the nature of the weighing of evidence during that process.

“Because this case has such a large audience among members of the general public and the fact there was so much controversy about the nature of sexual assault trials and their unique circumstances, I think the judge will be especially mindful that he needs to demonstrate to all watching parties how this case is being analyzed," he says.

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