Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Disobedient dissenters!

Again, final appellate judges refuse to obey the law and repeat their dissenting views in subsequent cases: R v Craig [2009] SCC 23, R v Ouellette [2009] SCC 24, and R v Nguyen [2009] SCC 25 (all 29 May 2009).

In the lead case, Craig, dissents were delivered by LeBel J, Fish J, and jointly by McLachlin CJ and Rothstein J. The same issues were addressed in Ouellette and Nguyen.

One would think (see notes for 19 January 2007, 16 January 2009 and 4 May 2009) that the dissenters would correctly identify the ratio of Craig and apply it in the subsequent cases. Instead, they repeated their reasoning by reference to what they had decided in Craig.

There was no suggestion that the decision in Craig was being considered with a view to its being overturned. If there had been such a suggestion, it would have been proper for the dissents to be raised again.

It must be confusing for law students to see appellate judges doing this. In Ouellette and Nguyen the dissenting reasons have absolutely no legal value: no lower court can follow them without misapplying Craig.

The cases concern the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, S.C. 1996, c.19, particularly ss 16 and 19.1. Craig holds that forfeiture and sentencing are exercises independent of each other, but where forfeiture of real property is being considered, injustice may be avoided if partial forfeiture is ordered, although other options are no forfeiture of full forfeiture.

McLachlin CJ and Rothstein J dissented on the issue of partial forfeiture, holding that it was never available as an option. LeBel J and Fish J each dissented on whether the exercises were separate, holding that a sentencing judge may take into account a punitive forfeiture order.

So, any court that considers partial forfeiture of real property is not available would be contravening Craig. As would a court that thought a sentence should be influenced by the extent of a forfeiture order.

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