Judicial Decision Making in Child Sexual Abuse Cases.


182 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7748-1264-1
DDC 345.71'0253602643





Reviewed by Ashley Thomson

Ashley Thomson is a full librarian at Laurentian University and co-editor or co-author of nine books, most recently Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide, 1988-2005.


How much time should a father get for sexually abusing his daughter? Would the answer be any different if there were no penetration? If it happened three times when the daughter was 14 and 15? If a psychologist, his wife, and his friends all reported that this was uncharacteristic, that he was sorry, and that as an upstanding member of the community and his family’s sole breadwinner, he should be allowed to keep working?


These and other questions are faced by judges all the time, but the answers vary both by time and by judge, according to Margaret Wright, a professor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia. “Many have claimed that variability is the result of judges carefully considering the merits of each case,” she writes. “The data do not support that claim.” Wright bases her conclusions on research she conducted on decisions taken by appeal judges in Ontario in two time periods—1990–1993 and 1998–1999. Overall, the results are dispiriting primarily because many judges tend to downplay damage done to victims whilst going light on offenders because of “mitigating circumstances.” Wright seems to acknowledge, however, that changes in legislation between the two periods she has studied, which inserted Victim Impact Statements into trials, have somewhat improved judicial decision making.


Wright herself advances further suggestions as a means of rebalancing the system. These include appointing more women to the bench, better training for all judges (particularly on issues of children’s vulnerability), and finally allowing children’s voices to be better heard by appointing a lawyer to represent them exclusively.


While the research behind this book is Ontario-based and limited to cases which went to appeal because the documentation is better, there is no reason to think that Wright’s conclusions would be much different had she analyzed other jurisdictions, and possibly other time periods.


As such, the book deserves to be placed in the hands of all Canadian judges, lawyers, children’s aid workers, and of course social work students. Wright has brought a dirty little secret to light and her book deserves to have impact…for the children’s sake.


Wright, Margaret M., “Judicial Decision Making in Child Sexual Abuse Cases.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/28843.