As a law professor and one who teaches legal ethics, one of the most troubling parts of the Jian Ghomeshi story for me is the question of the ethics of the civil lawsuit filed by his lawyers against the CBC for a staggering $55 million.
There are serious systemic problems in our justice system surrounding the treatment of sexual assault complainants. There is a culture of intimidation, denial and blaming by police, lawyers, judges and juries that plays a significant role in explaining why so many women do not report their assault and why there are more acquittals in sexual assault cases than for any other offence.
In my view, lawyers have played a significant role in the silencing of sexual assault. Anyone familiar with the criminal justice system will tell you, if they are honest, that lawyers appear willing to be more zealous in defending a client charged with sexual assault than for any other offence. Indeed, one prominent Ottawa lawyer once told a group of young budding lawyers that their role in cross-examining a sexual assault complaint is to “whack the complainant … if you destroy the complainant … you destroy the head … you’ve got to attack the complainant hard with all you’ve got.” More recently, a senior member of the bar told a group of lawyers that their job was to “kill” the complainant in cross-examination.