Lawyer speaks out in defence of cab driver acquitted of sexual assault

Complaints about N.S. judge who said 'a drunk can consent' will be investigated

The lawyer for a Halifax cab driver acquitted of sexual assault spoke out in his client's defence Monday, the same day the association for criminal lawyers defended the provincial court judge in the case.

Luke Craggs issued a news release saying his client, Bassam Al-Rawi is being "treated as a guilty man" despite his acquittal.

Al-Rawi was found by police in south-end Halifax with a partially naked passenger passed out in the back seat of his taxi in 2015. Judge Gregory Lenehan ruled last week that while some of the details of the case were "very disturbing," the Crown failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that anything nonconsensual happened.

"Since his acquittal, there has been a great deal of public discussion about Mr. Al-Rawi, the trial judge and the criminal justice system," Craggs said in his statement.

"Some of the discussion is well informed and thoughtful, but much of it is not.... Those most eager to vilify Mr. Al-Rawi seem to be the least eager to gather accurate information. The fleeting gratification of this uninformed public pillorying carries real world consequences for both Mr. Al-Rawi and informed public discourse."

Lawyers speak out for judge

Craggs's statement followed one earlier in the day from the Nova Scotia Criminal Lawyers Association defending Lenehan, who is under fire for remarks he made on consent as he issued his oral ruling.

In a news release, the group said while people are free to disagree with the ruling, it "should be informed, not just of the facts and the law related to the particular case, but also of the principles that ensure the fair and just functioning of our criminal justice system."

'Publicly unpopular'

A dozen therapists and sexual-assault centres for women have called for Lenehan to be removed from the provincial bench over his ruling and his comment that "clearly, a drunk can consent." 

As of Monday, there were more than 34,000 supporters listed in a petition urging that the judge be subject to a formal inquiry.

But the criminal lawyers association said the role of the judge in a criminal trial is to consider only admissible evidence and to determine if the Crown was able to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. That means sometimes making "publicly unpopular" decisions, the group said. 

The association said Lenehan hears numerous cases every day and is "consistently encouraging and understanding towards marginalized people, those with addictions, or who are suffering from mental illness."

"He is always respectful to complainants, accused people and witnesses. Most importantly, he is fair. He is the type of person that any reasonable, informed member of the public should want as a judge."

Formal complaint

Lenehan is also the subject of a formal complaint.

Formal complaints against provincial judges are handled by the office of the chief provincial court judge, who determines if the complaint should be dismissed or if there should be a review panel. In this case, Chief Judge Pam Williams has recused herself from any complaints related to Lenehan, who is her ex-husband. 

The outcome of the complaint doesn't reverse Lenehan's decision on Al-Rawi.

"Personally, it seems to me there is enough here and there's been enough concern raised in the public that there probably does need to be a review panel because the essence of this is to continue public confidence in the judiciary," said Wayne MacKay, a professor at Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law.

"Whether it will, I don't know. And they do have power to dismiss if they decide that's not the case," MacKay said.