Crown lawyers in 1982 wrongful-conviction case didn't know any better: lawyer

VANCOUVER -- British Columbia should be off the hook in a $43-million wrongful-conviction lawsuit because prosecutors back in 1982 may not have known that withholding contradictory evidence from the accused might have hamstrung his defence, says a Crown lawyer.

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Ivan Henry is suing the province for compensation in B.C. Supreme Court, after he was convicted on 10 sexual-assault charges and spent 27 years behind bars before his 2010 acquittal.

His lawyers have said he deserves up to $43 million in compensation.

In closing arguments on Tuesday, Crown lawyer John Hunter said the legal culture was different in the early 1980s and prosecutors weren't expected to disclose all their evidence to the defence.

"Put yourself in the shoes of a prosecutor in 1982," said Hunter. "We know now that that's what should be done. ... But I say that wasn't known then."

The undisclosed evidence included sperm samples that failed to match Henry's blood type, contradictory victim statements and a compromising hand-written letter from a complainant sent to the home address of an investigating officer.

Hunter dismissed the defence's suggestion that the case's key prosecutor, Michael Luchenko, who has since died, intentionally withheld evidence, and he understood doing so would compromise Henry's ability to defend himself in court.

"It was a different time. A prosecutor's conduct should be evaluated not on the basis of what we know now but what they knew then."

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson challenged Hunter several times, questioning the attorney's assertion that Luchenko didn't understand the implications of his actions.

"I wouldn't think it's much of a leap for a prosecutor to look at statements that have inconsistencies and think, 'Gee, that might assist the defendant,"' he told Hunter. "I can't imagine how you would come to any other conclusion."

Hinkson also noted that Henry and one of his lawyers were denied documents they specifically requested from the Crown.

Hunter responded that Henry dismissed the lawyer who requested the evidence after only a few weeks on the job and his subsequent legal counsel didn't make that exact same request.

"Henry repeated it serially," interrupted Hinkson. "Surely Mr. Luchenko must have said to himself, 'I'm not going to give them what they're asking for.' What other conclusion can I draw?"

"I don't know," replied Hunter, adding that if Henry had really wanted the documents his subsequent lawyer would have been more specific.

Henry dismissed three lawyers in quick succession and refused publicly funded legal aid for his trial and sentencing hearings, opting instead to represent himself.

"Does the decision to reject publicly funded legal assistance carry with it any responsibility?" asked Hunter.

"If he hadn't fired his lawyers who knows what might have happened."

The province is expected to wrap up its final arguments by the end of the week.



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