Tipping towards the bigger and the whole

How happy I was Saturday morning to wake to the headline of the Winnipeg Free Press, “Justice for Candace,” and to read that the jury, late the previous evening had returned a verdict of guilty. I’ve mentioned the trial here, and I won’t say more, as all the details are in the news and the rest belongs to the family and closest friends, our part now to share in their gladness of arrival and to honor their pledge “to love, to forgive, and to live”…

But I want to say that I was quite taken with the trial’s final day — yes, with the drama of it, and the contrasting styles of the two lawyers, for the defense and for the prosecution, but most particularly with the judge’s instructions to the jury. Newly appointed Manitoba chief justice Glenn Joyal’s reading of his charge took about three hours. I had no idea what such instructions might entail, but it was a thorough review of how the jurors should proceed to reach a (unanimous) decision, the relevant law for this case, and the evidence they had heard from the opposing sides. He talked, for example, about the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt”; how they might go about assessing witnesses and their testimony, their honesty, etc.;  how they must make their decision based only on the evidence, which included the submitted exhibits and the things witnesses had said; how they must not speculate but could infer. (He explained the difference between speculation and inference.) He reminded that the accused’s silence could not be used against him and told them that how much they relied on “expert opinion” was entirely up to them. It was the “cumulative effect of all the evidence” that was important, not any individual item.

I was astonished at the confidence the judge’s charge placed in the twelve people before him to find a verdict in what had been, by all reports, a complex case. He lifted up common sense and told them not to enter the jury room with their minds made up. They should listen carefully to one another. Some had taken notes, he said, to aid memory, but “notes don’t make decisions; jurors do.”

I also found myself overwhelmed with gratitude for the rule of law upon which our society rests. It fails at times, can be cumbersome, as the Free Press editorialized this week, but in its solid striving towards justice it’s probably about as good as it gets, humanly speaking, and is such a huge, huge gift. I don’t know when the breadth of “law” has become as clear to me as while that set of instructions was going on — definitions and laws, but also the manner of behaving towards one another in their mutual task and how it’s all about nuance that pulls towards the biggest reach of justice rather than the narrowest. All that, at least, is what I heard.

I couldn’t help thinking how much of what he said would be applicable to other contexts. The past two Sundays our sermons in church have been based on texts from the Sermon on the Mount, and suddenly I feel as if I “get” something about Jesus’ instructions there — many of them, of course, about “the law.” It’s like I’m hearing these texts in the clear, calm, steady words of a Justice Joyal, instructing us how to navigate the many judgments we make, the many things we do, opening nuance, giving us confidence, but always tipping towards the bigger and the whole, to the weightiest matters of the law — love of God, love of neighbour — and if the evidence persuades beyond a reasonable doubt, acting as if it does. I think I understand better the psalmist’s enthusiasm — “Oh, how I love your law!” I also pray, “Yahweh…let your word endow me with perception!” (Psalm 119:169).

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