Friday, June 28, 2013

Sufficiency of reasons

R. v. Vuradin, 2013 SCC 38 holds:

[10]                          An appellate court tasked with determining whether a trial judge gave sufficient reasons must follow a functional approach:  R. v. Sheppard, 2002 SCC 26, [2002] 1 S.C.R. 869, at para. 55.  An appeal based on insufficient reasons "will only be allowed where the trial judge's reasons are so deficient that they foreclose meaningful appellate review":  R. v. Dinardo, 2008 SCC 24, [2008] 1 S.C.R. 788, at para. 25.

[11]                          Here, the key issue at trial was credibility. Credibility determinations by a trial judge attract a high degree of deference.  InDinardo, Charron J. explained:

Where a case turns largely on determinations of credibility, the sufficiency of the reasons should be considered in light of the deference afforded to trial judges on credibility findings.  Rarely will the deficiencies in the trial judge's credibility analysis, as expressed in the reasons for judgment, merit intervention on appeal.  Nevertheless, a failure to sufficiently articulate how credibility concerns were resolved may constitute reversible error (see R. v. Braich, [2002] 1 S.C.R. 903, 2002 SCC 27, at para. 23).  As this Court noted in R. v. Gagnon, [2006] 1 S.C.R. 621, 2006 SCC 17, the accused is entitled to know "why the trial judge is left with no reasonable doubt" . . . .  [para. 26]

[12]                          Ultimately, appellate courts considering the sufficiency of reasons "should read them as a whole, in the context of the evidence, the arguments and the trial, with an appreciation of the purposes or functions for which they are delivered": R.E.M., at para. 16.  These purposes "are fulfilled if the reasons, read in context, show why the judge decided as he or she did" (para. 17).

[13]                          In R.E.M., this Court also explained that a trial judge's failure to explain why he rejected an accused's plausible denial of the charges does not mean the reasons are deficient as long as the reasons generally demonstrate that, where the complainant's evidence and the accused's evidence conflicted, the trial judge accepted the complainant's evidence.  No further explanation for rejecting the accused's evidence is required as the convictions themselves raise a reasonable inference that the accused's denial failed to raise a reasonable doubt (see para. 66).

[14]                          The appellant submits that the reasons do not disclosewhy the trial judge decided as he did. Before accepting the complainant's evidence the trial judge failed to address live issues relating to the credibility of the complainant.  A number of the live issues, listed in detail by the dissenting judge in the Court of Appeal, went unmentioned by the trial judge or, if mentioned, were followed by a bald conclusion.  Although a trial judge's credibility findings relating to witnesses should not be lightly disturbed, the trial judge's reasons do not adequately explain why he accepted the complainant's evidence and why the appellant's evidence did not raise a reasonable doubt.

[15]                          The core question in determining whether the trial judge's reasons are sufficient is the following: Do the reasons, read in context, show why the judge decided as he did on the counts relating to the complainant? In this case, the trial judge's reasons satisfy this threshold.

[16]                          First, the trial judge found the evidence of the complainant compelling — that is, credible and reliable.  He explained why, noting an exchange between the complainant and the investigating police officer to whom she expressed worry about being considered a bad girl because she may have liked what the appellant had done to her.  The trial judge stated that this "had the ring of truth".

[17]                          Second, the trial judge recognized the live issues relating to the complainant's credibility.  He was not obliged to discuss all of the evidence on any given point or answer each and every argument of counsel:  R.E.M., at paras. 32 and 64; andDinardo, at para. 30.  Here, he noted the problems in her evidence — the lack of a hymen, inconsistency as to the number of incidents, the physical impossibility of some allegations, and leading questions by the police officer who took her statement.  He addressed each of them, albeit briefly, ultimately finding that they were inconsequential to his conclusion.  He characterized the appellant's suggestion of concoction as speculative.

[18]                          Third, the trial judge considered the appellant's denial of the allegations. He acknowledged that the appellant's evidence may have been more fulsome if his command of the English language were better.  Read in context, the trial judge's reasons reveal that he rejected the appellant's denial.  Later in his reasons, in relation to the other counts, the trial judge stated that the denial was not truthful and did not raise a doubt.

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