Anti-feminist. Unethical. Traitor to her gender. These are just a few of the epithets slung at criminal lawyer Marie Henein during and in the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi sex assault trial. Her choice of shoes, not to mention their cost, also came under fire. As did her hair and clothes. Let’s not even get started on what the twitterati had to say about her cross-examinations. What a tremendous amount of energy was spent by so many professional and armchair critics in trying to tear down Henein. What an absolute blood sport the trial turned into, and not just for the accused and the witnesses.
The outrage, the mudslinging, the name calling, and the general focus on Henein is a sign of the times, and not a good sign, in my humble opinion. Almost all of it shows an incredible lack of understanding by the public of the justice system, what a defence counsel’s role is in the system, and what the rights of the accused are. It highlights how social media and minute-by-minute commentary from those who don’t really understand the criminal justice system can be whipped up into a fervour of misinformation and personal insults.
As Henein herself said in her CBC interview with Peter Mansbridge, people who say her dogged cross-examination showed her to be “against women is a fundamental misconception of what we do in the justice system. Female judges adjudicate all sorts of cases including sex assault cases. They are not traitors to the gender when they acquit or supporters of the gender when they convict. They are doing their job as am I.”
Henein is considered one of the best criminal lawyers in Canada by her peers. Her reputation also means clients will seek her out. She is a successful woman in a male-dominated area of practice. She is a successful woman by most standards in any profession. She is a mentor and role model to many young lawyers, particularly women. She is also fierce. She is driven. And her strong personality can rub a lot of people the wrong way. That does not make her a gender traitor, anti-feminist, or a bad person. She is who she is.
Her success means that when people get into trouble and they are looking for someone to fight for them in court, they will go to her. And like essentially every criminal lawyer, it’s her job to take the cases. It’s her job to do everything she can to represent her client and work to create reasonable doubt about his or her guilt in the courtroom. Any criminal lawyer would do the same. The system is designed as it as, and it is far from perfect, but within that system she did everything she should and could to represent her client.
What she did was ethical, no question, it’s her job and the job of every defence counsel in a courtroom. And she should never have to answer the question of whether she is “comfortable” representing a client.
Every Canadian has the right to representation and it is the ethical duty of lawyers to provide that. You don’t have to like your client, condone their behaviour, or agree with their politics. It is the lawyer’s job to represent them and be the kind of person who can keep their personal feelings and opinions aside to do so.