Judge's improper use of 'hockey sense' gets verdict overturned

Tuesday September 1st, 2015

Hockey sense, that uncommon knack for understanding how best to engage any given situation in a game, is a highly prized trait in a forward or a defenseman.

Apparently, though, not so much in a judge.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario ordered a new trial on Monday for a beer-league hockey player after ruling that his trial judge “improperly used [her] hockey sense to convict him” of aggravated assault in the wake of a devastating body check that left an opponent with long-term injuries.

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“Hockey strategy is not a proper subject for judicial notice,” Judge William Hourigan wrote for the appeal panel. “From the sports pages to social media, it is abundantly clear that reasonable Canadians often disagree about what constitutes a rational hockey strategy in a given situation.”

Judge Diane Lahaie, who oversaw the original trial, came to the conclusion that the play in question was an intentional blindside hit in retaliation for a trip that had occurred earlier in the game. Lahaie noted that the defendant “was a defenseman who was out of position both because he was deep in the other team’s zone and because he was on the wrong side [of the ice]. It defies logic that ... a defensemen would have gone to the net in hopes of scoring a goal and that he would be skating with such lack of control.”

The Court of Appeal ruled that Lahaie used “impermissible speculative reasoning” to reach that decision and that she “appears to impose her personal knowledge of hockey on the facts of the case.”

Only in Canada, eh?

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