Does Luka Magnotta's rare request defy an 'indispensable' principle of justice?
Published Tuesday, March 5, 2013 8:47AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, March 5, 2013 10:13AM EST
The accused killer who gained worldwide attention for allegedly dismembering his victim and mailing the body parts around the country is now shunning the spotlight, asking a judge to ban the public from the courtroom when his preliminary hearing gets underway next week.
In a rare move, Luka Magnotta's lawyer has filed a request to bar everyone except the judge, lawyers and court clerk from the courtroom.
Magnotta is charged with first-degree murder in the death and dismemberment of Chinese-born student Jun Lin, as well as a number of other charges ranging from committing an indignity to a body to mailing obscene and indecent material.
Luc Leclair, Magnotta's Toronto-based lawyer, included few details in the motion filed last week, stating only that the request is related to Magnotta's personal health and medical history -- with additional details to be provided in court. The request will be debated next Monday as the preliminary inquiry begins in Montreal.
CTV legal analyst Steven Skurka said the request appears to conflict with the open court principle, a key component of Canada's justice system which states that generally, court proceedings should be open and transparent.
"What's so important in our country is that if you want to walk into a courtroom today across this country you have the opportunity to do that, to walk in and make sure justice is being done -- it's key to demonstrating we have integrity in our court process," Skurka said.
"The moment you close the door because the defendant makes the request, it suggests there's something askew, there's something wrong here, and that's what the judge is going to have to contend with in this application."
In nearly all cases, Skurka said, evidence presented at preliminary hearings is automatically subjected to a publication ban, making Magnotta's request even more "astonishing."
According to the federal Department of Justice website, the open court principle is considered "indispensable" to Canada's justice system.
"Generally, the principle requires that court proceedings be open to the public, and that publicity as to those proceedings be uninhibited. No less than the legitimacy of criminal justices depends on it; the fairness of criminal process and public confidence in the system are at stake," the website states.
The Criminal Code of Canada also upholds the principle that every court "shall be an open public court," but does set out a provision for judges to use discretion if justice would be best served by excluding the public.
"Where the presiding judge, provincial court judge or justice, as the case may be, is of the opinion that it is in the interest of public morals, the maintenance of order or the proper administration of justice to exclude all or any members of the public from the courtroom for all or part of the proceedings, he may do so," states Section 486.
Beginning next week, Magnotta's lawyer and the Crown will debate whether the accused can stand trial. Quebec Court judge Lori-Renee Weitzman will hear the case, which would be heard by another Quebec Superior Court judge if it were approved to proceed to trial.
Magnotta is accused of mailing body parts to several addresses, including the Conservative Party of Canada's Ottawa offices, the Liberal Party of Canada and two Vancouver schools.
Magnotta became the subject of an international manhunt after Lin's body parts began showing up at various locations.
Magnotta, 30, is also charged with:
- Committing an indignity to a body;
- Publishing obscene material;
- Criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and members of Parliament;
- Mailing obscene and indecent materials.
He has pleaded not guilty and chosen to be tried by a judge and jury.
The preliminary hearing is expected to last at least two weeks.
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