In a recent decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal an Ontario trial judge was rebuked for not providing written reasons in acquitting a man accused of very serious assaults, some of which were sexual assaults. R. v. Sliwka, 2017 ONCA 426
The trial judge acquitted the accused and said when deciding to acquit that written reasons would be forthcoming. Written reasons were never provided.
The Crown appealed the acquittals on the basis that were no reasons for judgment and that the failure to provide reasons for the acquittals amounted to an error in law, requiring the quashing of the acquittals and the order of a new trial on all counts.
The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed.
The trial judge said in open court “I have now had full opportunity to carefully consider the matter and to arrive at a decision on all of the counts. My detailed written reasons will be released on Monday, March 14th, 2016.” The Court of Appeal said, “They are not reasons that in any way explain that decision or expose it to proper appellate review.”
The Court of Appeal, relying on well-known legal principles laid down by the Supreme Court of Canada, stated:
Trial judges must give reasons for their verdicts. Reasons that explain to the parties and the public the result arrived at by the trial judge are crucial to maintaining the proper level of transparency and accountability essential to the maintenance of the integrity of the trial process and public confidence in that process. Reasons for judgment allow the parties to know that their claims have been heard, understood and adjudicated upon in an objective and reasonable fashion that accords with the applicable legal principles.
On an appeal based on the trial judge’s failure to give reasons, the appellate court measures the adequacy of the reasons against the requirement that the reasons permit meaningful appellate review of the trial decision. If the reasons serve that function, any shortcomings from a due administration of justice perspective, do not justify appellate intervention. However, reasons that frustrate meaningful appellate review constitute an error in law. That error requires the quashing of the verdict unless the trial record as a whole permits effective appellate review of the verdict.
This was not the first time the trial judge had failed to provide written reasons for judgment. But the Court of Appeal said it had better be the last, concluding:
Our order directing a new trial is a terrible result for everyone involved in this proceeding. The trial judge’s failure to give reasons, despite her repeated promises to do so, has frustrated the proper administration of justice. Nor is this the first time that this trial judge’s failure to provide reasons has required this court to order a new trial. It must be the last time.