Media and the justice system have always been intertwined, but now more than ever in the digital era. The days of simply reporting cases are gone though. Both digital and traditional media have now adopted the activist call #BelieveTheVictim.

This hashtag has emerged from public outrage over the number of acquittals Canada has seen recently in sexual assault cases. There is such a strong perception that Canadian courts are unable to fairly hear sexual assault cases that even sexual assault lawyers admit to not advising their clients to file cases.

Judicial systems are based on the belief that it’s better for ten guilty people to escape justice than for one innocent to be wrongly convicted. This, combined with the basic Canadian judicial system belief that an accused is innocent until proven guilty, means that the core belief of #BelieveTheVictim is flawed.

While doctors, nurses, and counselors should believe the victim, those working in the judicial system like police officers, crown attorneys, and judges cannot. They must operate on the belief that the accused is innocent until proven otherwise. They inherently cannot believe the victim and in the core principle “innocent until proven guilty” at the same time.

Tweaks could be made to the courts and laws so that there are fewer acquittals, but that would also open up the door to more innocent people potentially being convicted. The handling of sexual assault cases can always be improved on, but the courts must play by the standard rules. They must believe in the presumption of innocence, and in the process of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Only then can they believe the victim.

Read the full Sun Media article: “Believe in Justice” by Toronto lawyer Edward Prutschi published September 14, 2017.

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About the author

I am one of the senior partners at Bytensky Shikhman, a criminal litigation firm in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In my 25+ year career, I have conducted numerous trials and appeals before all levels of Court in Ontario, defending just about every type of charge in our criminal law. I am also an Adjunct Professor of Trial Advocacy at Osgoode Hall Law School and currently the Treasurer of the Criminal Lawyers' Association of Ontario. I am also an Adjunct Professor for Trial Advocacy at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University and a regular lecturer and placement supervisor for Osgoode's Intensive Programme in Criminal Law.
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