A provincial court judge in Labrador is criticizing police for automatically shackling defendants when they're brought into court.

In a written decision filed last week, Judge John Joy said the practice of restraining prisoners — without determining first if it is justified — is humiliating and undermines the presumption of innocence.

"Trial courts in this province, and from what I have read about the courts across Canada, have fallen so far away from the principles that lie at the foundation of our justice system against prisoner restraint in court, that we daily tolerate the unreasonable restraint of prisoners without any assessment of their individual risk of escape or violence," said Joy, who is based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. 

Judge John Joy

Judge John Joy, seen in this file photo, says handcuffs and leg shackles are being used in court too frequently. (CBC)

Joy's written judgement dates back to a case he heard in Nain, an Inuit community on Labrador's northern coast, in May 2015. A woman was accused of assaulting her partner, and was led into court in handcuffs and leg shackles.

Her defence lawyer objected, and Joy ordered the restraints to be taken off.

"The law clearly states that the issue of restraint of prisoners in the courtroom is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the presiding judge and is subject to his or her discretion," wrote Joy. 

'It is contrary to law'

Joy, who was appointed a Labrador judge in 2006, wrote that while the use of shackles on all prisoners has become accepted in courts, it's illegal. 

"We have, for at least the entire time I have been a provincial court judge, accepted the use of leg shackles on all prisoners," he wrote.

"That has become the norm, but it is contrary to law. We have slipped into this practice of universal leg shackles on in-custody accused without legal authority, or even argument of any kind."

'Leg shackles and handcuffs [in court]...may amount to a civil assault and give rise to an award of damages.' - Judge John Joy

Joy says the RCMP began the practice of bringing all in-custody accused to court in Nain in handcuffs and leg shackles in February 2015.

Prior to that date, from at least August 2006, the RCMP almost always brought in-custody accused to court in leg shackles only, he wrote. 

Joy is not arguing that restraints should never be used in court.

"Now, the idea that all prisoners should be able to come into court without any restraint whatsoever will appear to many to be foolhardy and irresponsible," he wrote.

But he ruled that in the case in question police didn't provide any evidence that the accused posed a risk to the court.

'May amount to a civil assault'

Joy eventually found the woman not guilty of assault, and suggested she has grounds to sue the police.

"Lest there should be any doubt in this particular case, a blanket policy of presenting in-custody accused, in leg shackles and handcuffs into court in Nain is illegal, may amount to a civil assault and give rise to an award of damages. She may also have other remedies under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," he wrote.