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Hedley frontman will proceed to trial for sexual assault allegations after preliminary hearing

The preliminary hearing for Jacob Hoggard concluded today setting his next court date in Toronto for August 23, 2019. The…

Diana Davison Montreal, QC
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The preliminary hearing for Jacob Hoggard concluded today setting his next court date in Toronto for August 23, 2019.

The lead singer for the Canadian band Hedley was struck by a wave of Twitter allegations last February which resulted in two women going forward to police with accusations of sexual assault. Those charges will now proceed to trial.

There is a standard publication ban on the preliminary hearing until the conclusion of the trial as well as a ban on the names or identifying information of the complainants.

The hearing took two days to complete and it was the first time Hoggard was required to attend court. Preliminary hearings are weighted in favour of the prosecution, intended to determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. In sexual assault cases all that is needed to proceed is a complainant who is willing to testify.

Preliminary hearings do not assess credibility and mostly serve as an opportunity for the defence lawyer to lock in testimony under oath so they can prepare their defence most effectively.

One of the complainants in this case had previously given an interview to the CBC, published on February 25, 2019, and that will likely play a role in the trial. With the growth of the #MeToo movement, it is more common now for complainants to have made multiple statements prior to trial using social media or interviews with the press.

The band is on a hiatus of undetermined length since the end of their last tour when the allegations surfaced. Regardless of the outcome of Hoggard’s trial, the court of public opinion acts quickly and with an increasing assumption of guilt.

The role of the media in how these allegations play out deserves closer scrutiny and it’s possible that, as more of these cases go to court, journalists will start finding themselves the subject of media reports, depending on the quality of their investigations prior to publication.

In the trial of Jian Ghomeshi, two of the complainants alleged that The Toronto Star had misrepresented their complaints in their articles. Journalist Kevin Donovan asserted that he checked his notes and records to confirm that what he’d reported was accurate.

While many women have been expressing a lack of faith in the legal system, the use of other venues, such as Twitter or interviews with the media, can end up being the source of their credibility problems in court.

As opposed to police interviews, there is no way of knowing whether or not complainants are being accurately quoted or summarized by the media. Indeed, like in the Ghomeshi trial, a complainant may reject the interview as inaccurate while the journalist is stuck unable or unwilling to disclose their source material.

Those who support a vigilante style approach to “outing” alleged sex crimes using internet resources have not yet provided an outline as to how they feel their “justice” system should work or why they think it is better. They also have failed to say how they determine sentencing for those presumed guilty.

As Jacob Hoggard heads to court again in August, at least he can rest assured that, unlike Twitter, he’ll get a fair trial.

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