Tuesday, March 28, 2017

L'injustice des procès sommaires au Canada

Le système de procès sommaires est demeuré inchangé au Canada au cours des 328 dernières années. Sa caractéristique première et principale: un déni pour l’accusé de droits fondamentaux pourtant offerts aux accusés traduits devant les tribunaux civils.

Un procès sommaire au Canada n’est régi par aucune règle de preuve. L’accusé est un témoin contraignable et peut être contraint de s’incriminer malgré le privilège contre l’auto-incrimination garanti par la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés de la personne. Son silence peut déboucher sur une inférence négative et préjudiciable. Son époux ou épouse ne bénéficie pas du privilège rattaché aux communications entre époux faites durant le mariage, faisant ansi fi du privilège conféré par la Loi sur la preuve au Canada.

Toujours dans la même foulée, le oui-dire et les témoignages d’opinion sont admissibles. Il n’existe pas de transcription des procédures et des témoignages qui ont cours et lieu à un procès sommaire. Seules les sentences et les peines sont consignées sur un document sommaire. Comme si cela n’était pas suffisant, il n’y a pas de droit d’appel à un tribunal judiciaire soit à l’encontre d’un verdict rendu par un Commandant, soit d’une sentence qu’il a imposée qui priverait l’accusé de sa liberté.

L’accusé n’a pas droit d’y être représenté par avocat. En lieu et place, le Commandant doit lui assigner un de ses officiers subalterns pour l’aider à préparer sa défense. À l’instar de son Commandant, cet officier n’a pas de formation légale. Il n’a aucune obligation de confidentialité à l’égard de l’accusé et il va de soi que le privilège avocat-client ne s’applique pas.

Le procès sommaire se déroule sous la présidence du Commandant qui,n’ayant pas de formation légale, doit se débrouiller avec quelques notions procédurales de base qui lui sont fournies par le bureau du Juge-avocat général.

La validité constitutionnelle des procès sommaires a été ouvertement remise en question par plus d’un expert. Comme il n’y a pas d’appel à un tribunal judiciaire des décisions qui y sont rendues, la contestation constitutionnelle doit être exercée par les voies de recours du droit administratif.

Le procès sommaire s’écarte des principes les plus fondamentaux et élémentaires d’équité. De ce fait il ne saurait devoir, encore moins pouvoir, continuer d’exister dans sa forme actuelle puisque personne ne doit et ne peut être privé de sa liberté, sauf au terme d’un procès juste et équitable présidé par un tribunal compétent, impartial et indépendant de la chaîne de commandement. Ces trois caractéristiques qui sont gages de justice sont précisément ce qui manque aux procès sommaires.

Le Canada pourrait et devrait faire le nécessaire pour mettre en place la réforme, ou une réforme analogue, effectuée par le Royaume-Uni et d’autres pays, soit créer une Cour d’appel des procès sommaires où l’accusé retrouve l’ensemble des droits normalement conférés à une personne poursuivie pour une infraction de nature pénale. Il est aussi loisible au législateur de décriminaliser la compétence attribuée aux procès sommaires en limitant celle-ci à des infractions purement disciplinaires ne pouvant déboucher sur une peine de détention ou une peine qui donne naissance à un dossier criminel.

Sgt. Blackman's sentence reduced to 7 years

Royal Courts of Justice, London
The Court Martial Appeal Court today resentenced Royal Marines Sgt. Alexander Blackman to seven years imprisonment, following the court's earlier decision to sustain a conviction only of manslaughter, vice murder. He may be released soon given the normal policy of release after service of half the sentence. The court's sentencing decision can be found here. The court also released its reasons for judgment on an application by the media for the release of video clips. That can be found here.

Military related disputes in the Chinese courts



On March 12, Supreme People's Court (SPC) President Zhou Qiang gave his report on the work of the people's courts to China's legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC).  For the first time (in at least several years), he reported on the number of certain military-related cases. The single sentence (in Chinese) requires some decoding for readers outside of the Chinese legal profession:
Deeply developed military rights related work. Vigorously promoted the Xinyang model and the East Henan and Anhui models, vigorously promoted the construction of civilian/military coordination mechanisms to protect military related rights in each military area. Military courts and civilian courts tried 1678 cases of destruction of military facilities, leaking of military secrets, destruction of military marriage etc., effectively protected the legal rights and interests of national defense security and military personnel and dependents. (深入开展涉军维权工作。大力推广涉军维权工作“信阳模式”“鄂豫皖模式”,积极推进各战区涉军维权军地协作机制建设,军事法院和地方法院依法审理破坏军事设施、泄露军事秘密、破坏军婚等案件1678件,切实维护国防安全和军人军属合法权益.)
A bit of amateur decoding of this sentence follows:
  • The Chinese military courts, unlike the civilian courts, do not publish regular reports on the cases that they hear. Therefore we cannot not know how many of which type of cases were tried.  We do know that Chinese military legal academics would like to see more transparency. 
    • This observer surmises that most of the cases were in the "etc." category, i.e., involved civil disputes over the termination of paid services by the military.  Some of these cases have been previously reported on this blog.  The Tianjin courts dealt with 418 (81% settled)   and searches of reports in local courts reveal dozens of cases, with articles stressing giving these cases priority, settling them and avoiding confrontation with disgruntled civilians.A report on the accomplishments of a Beijing court in supporting the military reveals an example of the type of case that end up in court--a real estate development project involving a military party in which the developers had not issued ownership certificate to owners, making 100 purchasers very angry. The Beijing court, which designated a group of judges to deal with military related cases, resolved the dispute successfully.
  • On cases of destruction of military facilities, a search of one of the Chinese judgment databases revealed 11 cases in 2016, including a case in which a teenaged boy stole electric cable from a military installation (he was given a suspended sentence and another one in which a man used a slingshot to damage a military guardpost).
  • No cases involving the crime of the destruction of military marriage could be found in any of the judgment databases, but the Shanghai-based English-language outlet Sixthtone published this report on a Beijing case reported in the press. Research by this observer on this issue revealed a 2001 document issued by the General Political Department of the People's Liberation Army on Marriage Law questions restricting who, how, and when officers and soldiers can marry, and forbidding cohabitation before marriage. FAQ on the document found here--"are you dating? Make a report! Are you planning to get married, make a report! So you want to get divorced? You don't make the final decision.
  • The only cases involving the leaking of military secrets found in the judgments databases were a few rulings on applications for parole or sentence reduction of persons previously convicted of leaking military secrets.
  • The Xinyang and East Henan and Anhui models appear to be models to involve the local military/Party/government authorities to prioritize and resolve favorably military/civilian disputes.  
In January, 2017, the SPC issued a policy document on providing judicial protection to the termination of paid services by the military/armed police. As is usual with military-related legal documents, the full text has not been released. The summary contains few specific details, and primarily stresses that the courts should support the military and armed police in terminating paid services and should work with local authorities in doing so.

High Noon in Islamabad

The Senate of Pakistan is to vote today on a constitutional amendment reviving military courts' power to try civilians. A two-thirds vote is needed.

Postscript: The Senate passed the measure by a vote of 78-3. Unless again extended (as one must sadly predict), it will expire on January 6, 2019. Here is the Senate bill.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Canadian summary trials -- an absence of rights for the accused



The Summary Trial system in use by the Canadian Armed Forces has fundamentally remained unchanged in 328 years. It is mostly characterized by an absence of rights for the accused. Its constitutional validity has been openly questioned by experts. It deviates from the norms of fundamental fairness and that it should not be tolerated or allowed to continue to operate since no one should be deprived of his liberty, except by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal. The summary trial lacks all of these characteristics.It should not be tolerated or allowed to continue to operate. 

The Summary Trial process is not governed by any rules of evidence including the non-compellability of the accused to be witness against himself, adverse inference from the accused silence or spousal privilege. There might also be reliance on hearsay and opinion evidence. There are no transcripts of summary trials. Only the sentence and the punishments are recorded on a summary sheet. From this, there is no right to appeal a verdict or a sentence imposed by the Commanding Officer who could deprive the accused of his liberty. 

In lieu of counsel, the Commanding Officer must appoint an "Assisting Officer", one of his juniors, to 'assist an accused in mounting a defence." The "Assisting Officer" has not duty of confidentiality towards the accused, and there is no solicitor-client privilege. 

The Commanding Officer of the accused normally presides the summary trial.  He has no legal training. Instead, the Commanding Officer receives some basic procedural training provided by the Office of the Judge Advocate General.

The constitutional validity of summary trials has been openly questioned by experts. 

Canada could and should adopt the solution implemented by the United Kingdom and others by establishing a Summary Appeal Court where the accused is given the full panoply of rights. Alternatively, Canada could de-criminalize the summary trial process so that only disciplinary issues would be addressed at a summary trial. This approach would necessarily exclude  any punishment of detention or any other penalties giving rise to the creation of a criminal record.