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Could defence lawyers be punished for closing argument in Ibrahim Ali case?


The family of a 13-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted and murdered by Ibrahim Ali in July 2017 said they were “shocked and revolted at the appalling conduct of the defence during the case” and want the two lawyers to lose their licences.

In his closing argument, lead defence counsel Kevin McCullough suggested the young victim wasn’t innocent, may have been attracted to his client, and that they could have had consensual sex. Under Canadian law, a person must be at least 16 years old to be able to legally consent to sexual activity with an adult.

The jury didn’t buy it, convicting Ali of first-degree murder last Friday.

Outside court on Tuesday, the victim’s brother read a prepared statement that said, in part: “The defence of someone accused of a crime is never easy, but I’m sure there are ways to approach it without re-victimizing and re-traumatizing the surviving family and friends of the victim, and yet that’s exactly what this defence chose to do.”

He added the family is filing formal complaints against McCullough and his co-counsel, and wants to see the two lawyers disbarred. They’re encouraging everyone who’s angry at how the defence was conducted to write to the Law Society of B.C.

But experts don’t see how the lawyers could lose their licences over what they said about the victim in court.

“Lawyers are entitled to be vigorous and at times aggressive in defending their clients,” said former Supreme Court Justice Wally Oppal. “Keep in mind in a murder case, the consequences are huge.”

While disbarment is highly unlikely, defence lawyer Sarah Leamon said there are other penalties that could be imposed, including suspension and fines.

“Defence lawyers and all lawyers of course have an obligation to represent their clients to the very best of their abilities and within the confines of the law. That being said, lawyers also have ethical obligations and a duty to not just their clients, but also their communities, the courts, fellow lawyers,” said Leamon.

She added lawyers are not supposed to do anything that could bring the administration of justice into disrepute, which is what the victim’s family argues happened in the Ali case.

“This case has sparked considerable debate in the legal community about the role of defence counsel and the various ethical considerations that we have make in representing our clients,” Leamon said. “It has caused some to question whether an ethical boundary has been crossed, and if the defence theory in this case is something that could effect the public’s perception of lawyers or the even bring the justice system itself into question.”

Aline Vlasceanu, the executive director of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, would like to see some sort of repercussions for the Ali defence team.

“We are not trying take away the rights of the offender, of the accused to have their own defence. What we are saying is these folks, when they are defending their clients, they’re taking into account who’s in the room. I think you can do a really great job at defending and not say the things that this person said,” said Vlasceanu.

CTV News reached out to Kevin McCullough for his response to criticism about how he handled the Ali defence, but has not heard back.

On Friday, a person close to the case brought a gun to court. The victim’s father has now been ordered to stay away from the Ali defence team and the courthouse. Leamon said that news was very distressing for the legal community.

“I don’t think there is any realm where we can justify the idea of injuring or killing a person for doing their job,” Leamon said. “We might all disagree with the manner of how a particular person has done their job, the choices they have made in doing their job, but it certainly does not justify threats of harm or actual harm against any individual.”

In a statement on its website, the Law Society of B.C. said: “All justice system participants, including lawyers, witnesses, complainants, jurors and judges are entitled to feel safe as they carry out their difficult yet vital role in the administration of justice.”

Ali’s lawyers are appealing his first-degree murder conviction. So for the teen victim’s family, the ordeal may not be over.

“If these folks have to go through it once again, I’m really worried about their well being,” said Vlasceanu. “I really hope they have the support in place to be able to get through it.” Top Stories

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