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N.S. hires lawyers for sexual assault cases, aims to boost convictions

Last Updated Jan 18, 2018 at 2:40 pm EDT

HALIFAX – Nova Scotia has hired two new sexual-assault prosecutors, in what the justice minister says is in part an effort to increase the number of convictions.

“What we want to do is be more responsive in the criminal justice system to victims of sexual assault and sexual assault violence,” Justice Minister Mark Furey said Thursday.

Furey said Crown attorneys Constance MacIsaac and Danielle Fostey will work with other prosecutors and with law enforcement with the aim of improving outcomes of cases that make it to court.

He said they would look at the challenges that may have led to the dismissals of previous cases, “and in circumstances going forward ensure that those areas are addressed so that we are seeing a higher conviction rate.”

Denise Smith, deputy director of the Public Prosecution Service, said the pair would also develop sexual assault resources for Crown attorneys and measures for monitoring their performance in prosecuting sexual violence cases.

Smith said they would prosecute cases themselves or with other Crown attorneys, and also advise other lawyers preparing sexual assault cases.

Furey said it’s an important initiative given sexual violence is “rampant” in society.

“Government has to be seen to take these leadership roles … to address and ensure that these matters are getting to the courts, that they are presented in the most appropriate manner, and that we are securing convictions in these types of circumstances,” he said.

MacIsaac graduated from the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie in 2010 and has a degree in gender and women’s studies.

Fostey graduated from Queen’s University Law School in 2013 and has focused on prosecuting matters involving sexual violence and vulnerable victims.

Furey said the appointments align with the province’s sexual assault strategy announced in 2015.

He said while there is more work to do, the province has already taken “progressive” steps including last fall’s announcement of a program offering free legal advice for victims of sexual assault.

As well, he said the province is in the process of completing audits on the handling of sexual assault cases by municipal police forces and the RCMP.

Furey said a second provincial domestic violence court would also be opened next month in the Halifax area. A pilot project in Sydney, N.S., has been made permanent, he said.

“There was a critical element for me that we be able to recreate this and establish it based on the successes of the Sydney pilot project,” said Furey.