New & Notable: Letting trial judge's do their job...

RP was married to GL.  GL had a sister, ML.  ML, who was 13 at the relevant time, would babysit from time to time for RP and GL.  RP was 27 at the time.  Some 30 years later RP was tried for indecent assaults committed against ML.  RP was convicted by the trial judge.  He appealed to the Quebec Court of Appeal; a majority of that court found the verdict was unreasonable and entered an acquittal: 2010 QCCA 2237.  The Crown appealed.  A majority of the Supreme Court overturned that decision and restored the conviction: 2012 SCC 22.


Deschamps J, on behalf of the majority, noted that the case revolved around the credibility of the witnesses.  The sole legal issue on appeal was the reasonableness of the verdict. 

With respect to that issue, Deschamps J offered the following succinct conclusion:


In the case at bar, the majority of the Court of Appeal reached their conclusions by substituting their own assessment of the credibility of the witnesses for that of the trial judge. They were not persuaded by the reasons the trial judge had given for not believing the respondent; they found that he had incorrectly assessed the significance of the testimony of the respondentís wife, and that the defenceís theory of confabulation was not frivolous. In their view, the trial judge had erred in accepting the complainantís testimony. After undertaking their own assessment of the witnessesí credibility, they concluded that his verdict was unreasonable and entered an acquittal.


However, that verdict was clearly one a judge could reasonably render (Yebes, Biniaris). Unlike my colleague Fish J., I do not find that the trial judge drew an inference or made a finding of fact that was plainly contradicted by the evidence or was incompatible with evidence that was not otherwise contradicted or rejected (Sinclair). Furthermore, the trial judge’s assessment of the witnesses’ credibility was reasonable (Burke). For all these reasons, I find that the intervention of the Court of Appeal cannot be justified in this case [paras 11-12]; [emphasis added].


In support Deschamps J cited the comments of Arbour J in R v AG, 2000 SCC 17 wherein Arbour J noted that “where a judge gives detailed reasons for judgment and when, as in this case, the reasons reveal that he or she was alive to the recurrent problems in the this field of adjudication, the court of appeal brings no special insight to the assessment of the evidence” [AG at para 29].


Turning to the concerns raised by the majority of the court of appeal and Fish J – who dissented – Deschamps J noted that the specific portions of the evidence that bothered them and inconsistencies were not ignored by the trial judge.  Rather, she held “[t]he trial judge was not required to accept all aspects of the prosecutions’ theory or to reject it in its entirety any more than this Court is” [para 15].


In the end Deschamps J held that the trial judge did address the problems with the evidence.  The conclusions drawn and verdict were not unreasonable.  Appeal allowed; conviction restored.