Globe and Mail

Ontario bill attacks judges: lawyer

Head of Criminal Lawyers Association denounces proposal as bid to force tougher sentences

Queen's Park Bureau, Toronto
The Globe and Mail
Thursday, April 20, 2000

Provincial legislation designed to put pressure on judges to impose harsher sentences is an attack the judicial system itself, Alan Gold, the president of the Criminal Lawyers Association, said yesterday.

But the legislation, introduced this week by Progressive Conservative MPP Marilyn Mushinski, has received support from both Premier Mike Harris and from Attorney-General Jim Flaherty.

The legislation is designed to "motivate lenient judges to give out tougher sentences," Ms. Mushinski said in introducing it on Tuesday. "This bill will require the Attorney-General to table an annual report of the sentences that are handed out by judges in serious, non-plea-bargained criminal cases, compared to the maximum sentence under the law," she said.

"This will let the government, law enforcement agencies, and the public at large know which judges believe that stiff sentencing is an important way to protect law-abiding citizens."

Further, the legislation would pave the way for performance reviews of judges, perhaps by a committee of MPPs at Queen's Park, according to documents released by her office.

While legislation introduced by private members is seldom passed into law, it is a convenient way for the government to judge proposals that would be politically popular.

Mr. Harris stressed that he had not read the legislation but said he agreed with its intent. "Yes, I think judges should be accountable for their sentencing."

But Mr. Gold condemned it. "These people are Neanderthals when it comes to criminal justice. It's constitutionally insulting to suggest that judges should be assessed on the basis of how long their sentences are."

He added, "What's worse is their whole underlying philosophy that a criminal-justice system should only be concerned with severity and cruelty -- that that's the only right answer, to be crueller and more severe.

"They're only doing it because harshness on crime gets votes," he said.

But harsh penalties do not combat crime, he argued.

"If you take rehabilitation and leniency out of the criminal-justice system," he said, "you are really asking for trouble." Mr. Gold said he hoped "that the Attorney-General will have enough knowledge of the law to say that this is a bad bill and should be killed as soon as possible."

But Mr. Flaherty, far from fighting the legislation, was supportive.

"I think the public is entitled to know what sentences are being handed down by judges. The courts of the province of Ontario are public courts. They are not the domain of lawyers and judges, they're the domain of the people of Ontario," he said.

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