Politics·CBC Forum

Should politicians weigh in on court cases?

Jian Ghomeshi's lawyer Marie Henein has criticized NDP Leader Tom Mulcair for tweeting #IBelieveSurvivors in response to the former CBC Radio host's first sexual assault trial. Should politicians weigh in on court cases?

Multiple politicians, including two prominent NDPers, commented during Ghomeshi trial

NDP MP Charlie Angus is among the politicians who weighed in on the Jian Ghomeshi trial before a decision had been reached. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Jian Ghomeshi's lawyer Marie Henein has criticized NDP Leader Tom Mulcair for tweeting #IBelieveSurvivors in response to the former CBC Radio host's first sexual assault trial.

Henein said private citizens have a right to weigh in, but when a politician does it ​"that's a little more concerning." She accused Mulcair of denigrating the legal system and suggested he was only seeking votes.

Mulcair posted his tweet and a statement linked to the tweet hours before the ruling that saw Ghomeshi acquitted on all charges. He did not mention the Ghomeshi trial directly.

Last month NDP MP Charlie Angus was even more direct, saying in a Facebook post, "Nobody close to Jian even pretends he is innocent and somehow this isn't an issue — the women are." That comment drew both support and criticism, as well as a polite back and forth between Angus and CBC host Michael Enright about whether it's appropriate for a politician to presume guilt.

Should politicians weigh in on court cases?

Readers let us know in the latest CBC Forum — a live, hosted discussion about topics of national interest.

(Please note that usernames are not necessarily the names of commenters. Some comments have been altered to correct spelling and to conform to CBC style. Click on the username to see the complete comment in the blog format.)

Yes, politicians should comment

"Politicians are also fathers, husbands, sons and brothers. I think that in this case they had every right to speak out. Does this lawyer feel that free speech should be limited to everyone but politicians? I do not want our politicians to feel stifled. Had 10 years of that." — Haley

"I think politicians do have a right weigh in, but I also think they must be very careful in the way they express these opinions. I would want to know the politician's view and standpoint on any topic." — Politicians are citizens

"​I think Mulcair's #ibelievesurvivors is not inappropriate. It is perfectly possible to both believe survivors and accept the court's not guilty verdict. Survivors are everywhere. And they need to be believed." — Pam Shaw

"Politicians should be free to comment on court cases, but only in very select circumstances. The cases should be completely over — i.e., decisions rendered and the appeal periods expired. And they should focus their remarks on the societal issues highlighted by the case and not the specifics of the case, unless in so doing they help illustrate some greater point pertinent to the societal issue they are commenting upon." — Hylobates

No, politicians should keep clear of trials

"Politicians have an important role in establishing law and changes to legal practice. As such, they should never ever make comments about individual cases before the courts. Their work should be on legal policy and proposing any systemic changes needed. The judiciary is separate from politics and well able to handle cases." — Openandtranstarent

"​It's a straightforward abuse of power for an elected official to make comments outside court against or in favour of a person on trial, and should be illegal. They are not speaking as individuals, because that's not how their audience hears them; they are speaking with the voice of their office. It's just a matter of basic decency, fairness and common sense." — Nick Wright

"I believe that politicians and others criticizing the outcome should imagine themselves as the accused. Would you want your innocence-until-proven guilty or beyond a reasonable doubt rights removed? Would you want your lawyer to just roll over and not do the job she was paid to do?" —  Democracy Watch

"It is not the court's mandate to believe every complainant. The court is there to ask the hard questions and try to find some measure of truth. Social support, encouragement and referrals are the responsibility of social workers, friends and relatives. Would we not expect a complainant who alleges a mugging or auto theft to be critically examined?" — Evi Dense

You can read the complete discussion below.

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