Nfld. & Labrador

Identity of N.L. lawyer in sexual assault case revealed as top court won't hear anonymity bid

The curtain has been lifted on the identity of a Newfoundland lawyer facing sexual assault charges, after the Supreme Court of Canada declined Thursday to hear an appeal that would allow Robert Regular to continue shielding his name from publication.

Robert Regular argued publishing name would harm his reputation

Robert Regular, pictured in a 2020 file photo, is facing four counts of sexual assault and one of sexual interference. He has pleaded not guilty. A jury trial is scheduled for next year. (CBC)

The curtain has been lifted on the identity of Newfoundland lawyer Robert Regular, after the Supreme Court of Canada declined Thursday to hear an appeal that would allow him to continue shielding his name from publication.

Until now, Regular, 70, has been known on court dockets in Newfoundland and Labrador only by the initials R.R. 

He is facing four counts of sexual assault and one of sexual interference, involving the same alleged victim. She was 12 at the time of the first alleged assault two decades ago.

Three of the charges were laid against Regular in June 2021. The other two charges were filed in January.

Last year, Regular was granted an interim ban in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, to block his name from being published in relation to those criminal proceedings.

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

N.L. judge cautioned about 'sea change' in criminal law

In March, Justice James Adams sided with the media organizations.

Adams ruled that granting the publication ban would run counter to the open-court principle and would change the law across Canada. 

"If a publication ban were to be issued in this case, then almost anyone charged with a criminal offence could claim the same protection," the judge wrote in his decision.

"This would constitute a sea change in the criminal law. The appropriate authority to make such a change is Parliament, not the court."

Adams found that Regular's presumption of innocence is not at risk if no publication ban is granted.

"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 in his decision.

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

The judge lifted the ban on Regular's name, but stayed that decision pending Regular's bid to have the Supreme Court of Canada hear the matter.

Regular is being represented by well-known St. John's lawyers Rosellen Sullivan and Jerome Kennedy, as well as Scott Hutchison of the high-profile Toronto law firm Henein Hutchison LLP. 

They argued that releasing Regular's identity risked his presumption of innocence, privacy, and the reputation of other professionals in his field. 

The lawyers contended that publication of his name would cause lasting damage to Regular, even if he is found not guilty.

"The combined effect of an internet that never forgets and social media's present capacity to amplify irrelevant, inaccurate, or outdated information cannot be overstated," they wrote in the application to the court. 

The Supreme Court of Canada has declined to hear arguments from Regular, who wanted a publication ban maintained on his name. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Regular has worked in law for more than three decades as a lawyer on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula.

The Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador has sanctioned him five times since the early 1990s for an array of misconduct relating to the profession — none of which was criminal in nature. 

Regular had agreed that the ban could be lifted if he is ultimately convicted.

Victims of sexual assault are automatically protected by a publication ban on their identity because of the nature of the crime. 

The accused, however, is not protected by such a ban, unless one is needed to conceal the identity of the victim. 

Regular has elected trial by judge and jury. A seven-day trial is scheduled to begin at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court on May 29, 2023.

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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.