The Supreme Court recently put a foot badly wrong. With one clumsy step, it raised doubts about its commitment to transparency and openness. To boot, it puzzled and annoyed — in some cases, even offended — many of the most knowledgeable and friendly observers of the court and its workings.
In this issue, both Legal Ethics columnist Philip Slayton and incoming Canadian Bar Association president Kevin Carroll touch on the explosive issue of police and prosecutors doing background checks on potential jurors. At least two mistrials in Ontario were declared once the irregular, perhaps even illegal, practice came to light.
It turns out Ontario police have been conducting background checks on prospective jurors. Don’t confuse this with traditional jury vetting, when both prosecution and defence publicly question, and perhaps challenge, prospective jurors in open court.
For years, law firms have relied on a few rainmakers to bring in business to keep a slew of other lawyers working. Even in small firms, there’s often one lawyer who spends much of their time out there going to events, meeting people, and generally being the face of the firm in order to bring in new clients. But it seems the time has passed for firms to rely on these old ways.
Contracts are sacrosanct. This principle has been pounded into law students’ heads since legal education began. Professors pontificate as follows: provided certain formalities are met, and public policy is not offended, individuals (including juridical persons, corporations being the most important of these) are free to create private law between themselves. If necessary, courts will enforce this private law. Our freedom, our economy — gosh, our very way of life — depend upon this being so. (Full disclosure: I taught the law of contracts over many years in several law schools, and always toed this traditional line.)
The annual spring ritual is already underway — the mail out of tax-refund cheques to millions of Canadians. Every year, the federal government returns billions of dollars in overpaid taxes. The average refund in 2007 was approximately $1,400 — not a huge windfall, but still a sum that would be a shame to fritter away. As you know, your tax refund is not found money, it was your money all along that you lent Ottawa interest-free for the year. These funds should be put back to work for you.
On July 20, 1998 four members of a United Nations peacekeeping unit stationed in the mountains of Tajikistan, went missing. Their bodies were subsequently found strewn over a hillside near the wreckage of their vehicle. Each of the men had been shot in the head and chest. The murder threatened the UN peacekeeping mission in Tajikistan and the stability of a tenuous peace agreement which had ended a brutal civil war. As legal adviser to the UN mission, Ronald Poulton was involved in the trial of three members of a fundamentalist army arrested for the murder of the UN peacekeepers. In the following excerpt from his new book being released this week, Pale Blue Hope: Death and Life in Asian Peacekeeping, Poulton depicts part of that trial.