Do civil trials afford better outcomes for survivors of sexual assault?
In light of the recent Jian Ghomeshi trial and verdict, we thought it would be timely to examine the outcomes of sexual assault civil trials. Over the years, there has been quite a lot of news coverage regarding the specifics of the criminal trial process for sexual assault cases. An article in the Toronto Star in 2014 provided detailed historical conviction statistics for sexual assault charges. Very few self-reported sexual assaults lead to prosecutions followed by convictions.
Most recently, Supriya Dwivedi, a columnist for Postmedia, proposed civil court as an alternative to the criminal system for sexual assault survivors. From the outset, one thing to point out is the challenge that plaintiffs face in getting their case in front of a judge. As we've noted in the past, only 2% of civil cases ever make it to trial.
Loom Analytics ran a Hearing Outcome Report on sexual assault outcomes in civil trials in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice over a period of 2013-present (March 24, 2016). Of the 11 trial decisions released on CanLII in this time period, the numbers below indicate a 91% success rate for plaintiffs/survivors of sexual assault. This high rate of trial success for plaintiffs is perhaps due to some of the reasons suggested in Ms. Dwivedi’s article, including a “lowered burden of proof”. Another possible reason is the civil discovery process, i.e. the ability to examine the defendant in a civil suit prior to trial. In a criminal trial, the accused does not have to take the stand.
If you can make it to trial, civil court looks like it could be a good avenue for recourse -- but that's a big 'if'. For one thing, this number doesn't capture civil suits tossed out of court during the pre-trial process. At this stage a lot more data is needed to say one way or the other whether civil court is a better avenue than criminal court for sexual assault survivors.
All reports and statistics discussed in Loom's blog posts have been run on Loom Analytics using decisions that are available on CanLII. If you would like to run these reports or customize them further to fit your parameters, please visit http://www.loomanalytics.com.