ST. JOHN'S – A criminal defence lawyer is questioning the experience of Supreme Court trial judges in this province.
Bill Collins represents Randy Druken, whose murder conviction is one of three cases under review at the Lamer Inquiry.
Speaking this weekend at a conference organized by the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, Collins says most judges have little experience dealing with criminal charges.
Instead, he says, most of the judges have experience in corporate, constitutional or personal-injury law.
"I would say that 90 per cent of the judges that are appointed to the Supreme Courts have very little, if any, dealing with the criminal law," he says.
Collins says he believes most Supreme Court judges have never even seen the inside of provincial court, where criminal cases begin.
"What the judge should do before he gets appointed, he should go down and trail some of the matters that go on in provincial court," Collins says.
"Sit there, and see how these people react, understand where they're coming from, get an idea of how the low life works. They don't have a clue."
Collins's comments follow criticisms made by defence lawyer Jerome Kennedy, who currently faces disciplinary proceedings through the Law Society of Newfoundland.
Supreme Court judge Derek Green had complained to the Law Society of Newfoundland that Kennedy's comments, made during a 2003 speech to wildlife officers, questioned the competence of judges.
Kennedy is facing a possible reprimand or even disbarment.
Retired appeals court judge Bill Marshall, who attended the conference, says judges do receive training and have at least 10 years' experience.
However, Marshall says he supports a call for their decisions to come under closer scrutiny.
Meanwhile, Kennedy spoke at the conference Saturday, and again focused his criticism on the bench.
"In the eyes of some judges, the presumption of innocence has from a practical perspective has become the presumption of guilt," Kennedy told the conference.
Toronto criminal lawyer Mel Green, the co-president of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, supported Kennedy's view.
"In Newfoundland and Labrador – as is patently obvious – in at least three notorious cases, trial judges did not do their jobs in adequate fashion," Green said.
The Lamer Inquiry is reviewing the cases of Druken, Greg Parsons and Ronald Dalton.
Parsons was exonerated for the murder of his mother, Catherine Carroll. A childhood friend later confessed to the murder.
Druken was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Brenda Marie Young. After serving more than six years in prison, he was later released on appeal, and DNA evidence cleared him of the murder.
Dalton was found not guilty of his wife's murder during a second trial, but spent eight years in prison waiting for an appeal.