New sexual assault training will ensure judges keep up with the law, says justice minister

Justice and Public Safety Minister John Hogan say new training will help judges avoid relying on stereotypes when making decisions related to sexual assault. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Justice and Public Safety Minister John Hogan say new training will help judges avoid relying on stereotypes when making decisions related to sexual assault. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

Provincial court judges in Newfoundland and Labrador will now undergo mandatory training regarding sexual assault cases.

In an interview with CBC News, Justice Minister John Hogan says the training is meant to help judges avoid relying on stereotypes while making decisions related to sexual assault.

"Old ways of thinking about this particular issue do need to be changed, and they have been changing and the law needs to keep up and … make sure that judges are keeping up with the law," he said Friday.

Critics have long called for sexual assault training for Newfoundland and Labrador judges, especially after high-profile trials like that of Doug Snelgrove, who is in the process of appealing his sexual assault conviction.

In another case last fall, the provincial court of appeal ordered a new trial for a teenage boy accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl, after concluding the trial judge relied on rape myths in her decision to acquit him.

Hogan didn't reference a specific case, but did acknowledge that there have been issues with certain decisions that have been unpopular with members of the public.

"As we move forward with this training I think we'll see fewer and fewer of those decisions," he said.

He said the training will also include components related to Indigenous communities and Indigenous offenders.

Hogan noted that as an independent body, it's the judiciary — not the Department of Justice — that will be implementing the training. He said Chief Judge Robin Fowler will be finalizing an education plan to begin this fall.

Director of public prosecutions, Hogan's former law partner appointed provincial court judges

Earlier this week, the Department of Justice announced the appointment of two new provincial court judges, St. John's lawyer Andrew Wadden and Lloyd Strickland, the current director of public prosecutions.

Wadden is also Hogan's former law partner — although the justice minister insisted the appointment doesn't show favouritism.

"We're not making judicial appointments on a political basis — it's obviously going to be based on credentials only. The chief judge sits on the panel as well and to make a political decision for a judge is certainly something that I would never want to do," he said.

Hogan said judicial appointments have an open application process, and those applications are then vetted by a judicial panel. The panel then makes recommendations to the justice minister, and then cabinet makes an appointment.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the judicial council has five members: the president of the judges' association, the chief judge, a bencher nominated by other benchers from the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador and two individuals nominated by the justice minister, currently John Samms and Margaret Warren.

Hogan didn't say how many people the panel recommended for judicial appointments this time around.

"The best people with the best credentials are going to get these positions because it's important and its long term benefit for the province," he said.

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