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Former court of appeal judge Jacques Delisle is facing first-degree murder charges in connection with the death of his wife. ((CBC))

The case of Jacques Delisle, a retired judge charged with first-degree murder, is creating unusual difficulties for Crown prosecutors.

Former Quebec Court of Appeals judge Jacques Delisle appeared at the Quebec City courthouse on Tuesday in connection with the death of his wife.

It is the first time the charge has been laid against a member of the Canadian judiciary.

The Crown has already been forced to resort to exceptional measures to deal with the case.

In a rare move, before Delisle was arrested, evidence was presented before the court in an in-camera hearing known as a pre-inquiry.

The technique is sometimes used in cases where the evidence is extremely technical, said Martine Bérubé, who speaks for Quebec's director of criminal and penal prosecutions.

Officials have found a lead prosecutor who does not know Delisle, she said.

"It might be a challenge for the authorities of the court to find a judge that doesn't know judge Delisle," Bérubé acknowledged.

Legal community in shock

The arrest of Delisle, 75, has left the province's legal community in shock.

If the case goes to trial, a judge would likely be chosen from outside the province, said retired Quebec Superior Court judge Bernard Grenier.

Still, Grenier — who also knows Delisle — said he does not think it would be a problem to find an impartial jury.

"They may know that he's a judge, but it doesn't mean that they cannot render their verdict, based strictly on the evidence before them and not based on some kind of prejudice or hatred of judges," he said.

The case, which coincides with a public inquiry being held in Quebec examining allegations of political interference in the nomination process for judges, should not mar the image of the judiciary, said Grenier.

The charges have nothing to do with Delisle's work as a judge, he said.

The Canadian Judicial Council, the body which oversees the conduct of judges, said it has full confidence the justice system will serve Delisle fairly.

The law applies to Delisle just as it does to every other Canadian, said council spokesperson Johanna Laporte.

"As any other citizen, they have the full right to a fair process, they are presumed innocent until proven guilty," she said.

Delisle was a level-headed intellectual, said criminal lawyer Rénald Beaudry, who has pleaded cases in front of Delisle in the past.

"He has had an exemplary life, he had an exemplary career," said Beaudry. "What could have happened that at 75 years old, he finds himself in a courtroom with handcuffs on his wrists? Everyone is shocked."

Wife suffered stroke

Police initially believed the death of Marie-Nicole Rainville, 71, was a suicide.

The couple's neighbours in a Quebec City building confirmed that Rainville had been left partially paralyzed by a stroke a few months before her death.

"She could hardly talk, she couldn't walk, she couldn't do nothing," said one man, who asked to remain anonymous. "So, this was a very tough situation."

Occasionally, Delisle would bring his wife out in her wheelchair and go to the building's pool, he said.

"He lost weight, his appetite. He was walking occasionally here, all by himself, not talking … except for hello and no more than that."

Delisle is expected to return to court on Monday for a discovery hearing.