Veils, Vetting and Monkeys: Fun Couple Days for Court Watchers

For those who like to follow the courts, the past couple days have been interesting ones.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued their decision in R. v. N.S., on whether niqabs can be worn when testifying in court.  In an unusually split decision, the majority (authored by Chief Justice McLachlin and with Justices Deschamps, Fish, and Cromwell concurring) found that the trial judge must determine whether the veil can be worn on a case by case basis, the basic issue being one of trial fairness.  In concurring reasons (authored by Justice LeBel with Justice Rothstein concurring), the Justices held that a veil can never be worn in the witness box (this was considered a concurring decision as the ultimate result, to dismiss the appeal, was agreed upon).  Finally, in dissent, Justice Abella held that, where a witness is sincere in their beliefs, the effects of requiring them to remove the niqab, in cases where their face is not directly relevant to the case,  would result in more harmful consequences than an accused not being able to see their face.

Earlier today, the Supreme Court issued complementary rulings in R. v. Davey, R. v. Emms, and R. v. Yumnu.  These cases involved the police doing background checks on potential jurors and providing the information to the Crown to be used in the jury selection process.  The court unanimously held that this was permissible behaviour provided that all information obtained is disclosed to the defence.  I expect this decision to be heavily criticized by defence lawyers across the country.

Finally, there was today’s Ontario Superior Court decision involving the IKEA Monkey.  In this decision, which is effestively a temporary order, Justice Michael Brown ordered that the monkey, named Darwin, is to remain at an animal sanctuary until a ruling is made, likely in January, about his long-term custody.

I will provide further commentary on all three decisions in the coming weeks.

This blog post was written by Toronto Criminal Lawyer Adam Goodman. Adam can be reached at 416-477-6793 or by email at adam@aglaw.ca.

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