Time and again, people have asked me how it can be right for lawyers to defend guilty criminals. I’ve struggled with that question myself. I totally understand the reasoning behind this question: after all the work the police did on capturing the criminal, surely the guilty must be made to answer to the law. However, in cases where the criminal’s charter rights were violated, the criminal can escape punishment. Is that justice? Why are we protecting the criminal’s rights? What about the victim’s rights? How can we possibly let the guilty criminal go free?
You might feel differently after you read the decision R. v. Singh 2013 ONCA 750. In this case, the criminals confessed to robbery and unlawful confinement. However, what struck me was how the police obtained the confession. The Court of Appeal decision detailed the violent manner of interrogation (paras. 12-22). Furthermore, the police officer said to the criminal afterwards that “I’m sorry for what I did to you. It’s part of my job.”
The details of the beating was horrific. Was it really necessary for the police to beat the suspect in the manner described to obtain a confession? Is that really what is expected of a police officer as part of his job? What about the principle of presumed innocence until proven guilty?
The Court of Appeal clearly did not condone what happened here. The decision began with the sentence “Canadian society cannot tolerate-and the courts cannot permit-police officers to beat suspects in order to obtain confession.” Cases like these allow us to understand more clearly the values at stake. At paragraph 49, the court held that a stay of conviction was necessary to prevent “perpetuation of a wrong that, if left alone, will continue to trouble the parties and the community as a whole in the future.” What is at stake is no longer limited to finding this particular criminal guilty. What is also important is to prevent future misconduct of the authority against others in the community.