Nfld. & Labrador

'Prominent' N.L. lawyer facing sex charges can't shield name from publication, judge rules

A Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court judge has ruled against a lawyer who wanted a publication ban on his name because ongoing charges of sexual assault against him could hurt his reputation.

CBC, CTV win case over open-court principle, freedom of the press

A two-day hearing on a lawyer's publication ban application was held last month at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's. (Paul Daly/CBC)

A Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court judge has ruled against a lawyer who wanted his identity shielded from public disclosure because ongoing charges of sexual assault against him could hurt his reputation.

But the lawyer is arguing that the publication ban on his identity be maintained while he attempts to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

The matter is due back at court in St. John's on Friday, for a hearing about whether the publication ban will continue, pending the appeal bid to the nation's highest court.

Justice James Adams issued his decision on the main case Wednesday.

"The applicant relied on the assertion that he is a prominent lawyer in Newfoundland and Labrador," Adams wrote.

"To grant the publication ban on this basis on the facts of this case would put lawyers in a special category of accused persons which would seriously undermine the public's confidence in the administration of justice."

The man is facing charges of sexual assault and sexual touching of a female, who was 12 at the time of the earliest alleged offences.

Three charges were laid in May. Two more charges were filed in December.

Last year, he won an interim publication ban on his name in relation to those criminal proceedings.

CBC News and CTV News went to court, arguing the ban would interfere with the open-court principle and freedom of the press.

The judge sided with the media outlets and the Crown, which also opposed the application.

Justice James Adams of the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court is pictured in a 2017 file photo. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

"Justice done in secrecy is contrary to the tenets of a democratic society," Adams wrote in his decision.

The judge noted that the lawyer was asking the court "to make a significant change in the law."

The lawyer had argued that revealing his identity would deprive him of the presumption of innocence, negatively affect his reputation, and undermine his dignity. 

Adams decided that the presumption of innocence would not be at risk, if no publication ban was granted. 

He then turned to the other arguments raised.

"In protecting the applicant's reputation by issuing a ban on his identity, the court would be seriously impacting the public interest in encouraging persons with relevant information about similar allegations from coming forward," Adams wrote.

"It would also negatively impact the public's interest in seeing that all individuals charged with criminal offences are treated fairly and equally."

Publication bans are common in sexual assault cases, but to protect the identity of the alleged victim, not the accused.

A two-day hearing on the matter was held last month, with high-profile legal representation on both sides.

The applicant is being represented by former provincial justice minister Jerome Kennedy, longtime St. John's criminal defence lawyer Rosellen Sullivan and Scott Hutchison, a partner with Toronto-based Henein Hutchison LLP.

CBC and CTV were represented by Christine Lonsdale, a Toronto-based partner at McCarthy Tetrault LLP.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Antle is the producer for CBC's investigative unit in Newfoundland and Labrador. Ariana Kelland is a reporter with CBC in St. John's.

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