Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Inadequate reasons at trial and appeal

R. v. Goldmintz, 2012 ONCA 775 deals with a curious case where the trial and first appeal decisions were both inadequate to allow meaningful review:

[8]          While we appreciate that the deficiency of a trial judge's reasons is not a stand-alone ground of appeal, in R. v. Kendall (2005), 75 O.R. (3d) 565 (C.A.), at para. 65, leave to appeal to S.C.C. refused, [2005] S.C.C.A. No. 387, this court noted that deficient reasons or the absence of reasons may result in an error of law where:

(1)      the path taken by the trial judge is not apparent;

(2)      there are difficult issues of law which the trial judge has failed to          explain or;

(3)      there are conflicting theories for why the trial judge might have decided as he or she did, some of which would constitute reversible   error.

[9]          The reasons of the justice of the peace on the issue of mens rea were both brief and ambiguous. On the one hand, he found that the appellants acted "knowingly", and thus had the necessary mens rea to complete the s. 50(1)(c) offence. On the other hand, he implied that the appellants were "without fault" and therefore ought to be acquitted. His reasons are confusing as to whether the appellants had the requisite mental state.

[10]       Furthermore, the path taken by the justice of the peace to acquittal is not apparent and the theories for acquittal are conflicting. He may have acquitted the appellants because he concluded that they lacked the necessary mens rea. Alternatively, he may have committed reversible error by acquitting the appellants based on his perception of unfairness.

[11]       For his part, in reversing the decision of the justice of the peace, the appeal judge failed to identify the ambiguity embedded in the reasons and simply accepted that the justice of the peace was justified in his determination that the appellants had acted knowingly and had wrongly acquitted them on the basis of perceived unfairness. In our view, both the reasons of the justice of the peace and those of the appeal judge are inadequate since they foreclose meaningful appellate review on the mens rea component of the offences. A review of the record does not assist in resolving the shortcomings in the reasons. In light of this conclusion, it is unnecessary to address the issue of the applicability of the s. 5(h) exemption to the appellants.


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