Judge writes simple and ‘inspiring’ legal decision...
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Mar 06, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Judge writes simple and ‘inspiring’ legal decision for repeat offender

A Toronto judge's poetic ruling has captivated the legal community, with one lawyer describing it as "the most inspiring decision I have ever read."

OurWindsor.Ca

It was an ordinary case of a 29-year-old repeat offender caught stealing on probation — however; the judgment that was delivered was anything but.

Justice Shaun Nakatsuru became so moved by aboriginal offender Jesse Armitage’s tragic past that he delivered a remarkable decision written in plain language and personally addressed to Armitage.

The poetic and unique legal decision has captivated the legal community, with one lawyer describing it as “the most inspiring decision I have ever read.”

In the decision, Nakatsuru appeals to other judges to write legal decisions in simple language, so offenders can understand.

“As lawyers first and then judges, we get used to using words that are long and complicated. This only muddies the message we are trying to say,” Nakatsuru wrote. “In this case, I am writing for Jesse Armitage.”

He said Armitage appeared before him as a “dispirited man” who does not think of himself as important or care about what he does.

“If I could describe Mr. Armitage as a tree, his roots remain hidden beneath the ground. I can see what he is now. I can see the trunk. I can see the leaves. But much of what he is and what has brought him before me, I cannot see. They are still buried,” the decision said.

Steven Benmor, a family lawyer not involved in the case, said Nakatsuru should be applauded for writing in such elementary language.

“I read dozens of cases each week and most are just a recitation of the facts. This judge went to great lengths to really demonstrate empathy for this person in ways judges historically do not do,” he said.

“Frankly, this is the most inspiring decision I’ve ever read.”

A movement calling for more clear and understandable writing in the United States saw President Barack Obama signing the Plain Writing Act in 2010 to rid bureaucratic legal jargon from government documents. Benmor said Nakatsuru’s decision should be used as an educational tool to motivate all players in Canada’s justice system to do the same.

In the ruling released last month, Nakatsuru not only describes Armitage’s ancestry and how he came to be where he is today, but he also tackles some major social issues such as colonialism, past injustices on the aboriginal people of Canada and the over-incarceration of aboriginal offenders.

Armitage is “a metaphor for what negative effects colonization has had on many First Nations people and communities,” the decision read.

The 29-year-old offender was raised by a solo mother who struggled with alcohol abuse. His grandmother was a survivor of the Indian Residential Schools horror. He left home at 15, became a father at 19 and barely sees his son. He is unemployed, reliant on welfare and has had run-ins with the law since he was a child, often being caught stealing from shops or restaurants.

But, the jail stints never rehabilitated or helped him, Nakatsuru wrote.

Throughout the case, Nakatsuru said he “tried to reach” Armitage.

“Sometimes I felt I had some success. There was sometimes a smile of understanding on his face. Other times I just saw frustration in him,” he wrote.

Nakatsuru did not send Armitage to jail, instead he imposed a 14-month conditional sentence order to be served in the community, noting that some would likely disagree with his decision.

“While I cannot give this aboriginal offender mercy or leniency, I can give Mr. Armitage a chance,” Nakatsuru wrote.

“I have made this order so that he can take this path knowing he need not do it alone. He has the support of others if he wants it. He also has mine.”

The case was heard in Toronto’s Gladue court at Old City Hall, established for offenders of aboriginal background. Facebook messages and phone calls to Armitage’s family on Thursday were not returned.

Shortly after Nakatsuru finished writing his decision, but before it was released, Armitage was arrested for a similar offence.

When Armitage appeared before Nakatsuru again, he had no excuse for his behaviour, but he did ask if he could serve the nine months of the remainder of his sentence in jail.

“I believe that he had come to a point in his life where he was ready. Ready for a chance to change. When an offender has come to this point, no matter how long, torturous or difficult the path taken to get there, there cannot be sadness or disappointment. There can only be hope.”

Toronto Star

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