The Ethical Identity of Sexual Assault Lawyers

50 Pages Posted: 17 Oct 2015 Last revised: 12 Apr 2016

See all articles by Elaine Craig

Elaine Craig

Dalhousie University - Schulich School of Law

Date Written: October 15, 2015


Despite progressive law reforms, sexual assault complainants continue to experience the criminal justice response to the violations that they have suffered as unsatisfactory, if not traumatic. One emerging response to this dilemma involves greater consideration of the ethical boundaries imposed on lawyers that practice sexual assault law. What is the relationship between a criminal lawyer’s ethical duties and the reforms to the law of sexual assault in Canada? How do lawyers themselves understand the ethical limits imposed on their conduct of a sexual assault case? How do lawyers that practice in this area of law comprehend their role in the criminal law’s response to sexual harm? What is their sense of professionalism when acting in this capacity? If reforms to the law of sexual assault will not alone result in significant improvements to the experience of sexual assault complainants, perhaps greater focus on the ethics of sexual assault lawyering could improve the legal response to sexual harm. While the body of legal scholarship examining the issue of sexual violence has grown substantially in the past several decades, there has been very little research on the perspectives of criminal lawyers themselves. This is the first research aimed specifically at ascertaining how sexual assault lawyers understand their ethical obligations. Through analysis of semi-structured, in-depth interviews with experienced criminal defence lawyers and crown attorneys across Canada, this article presents a portrait of the ethical identity of sexual assault lawyers.

Keywords: sexual assault, ethics, defence lawyer, interview, consent, rape, duty of loyalty, professionalism, cross-exam, sexual history, hired gun

Suggested Citation

Craig, Elaine, The Ethical Identity of Sexual Assault Lawyers (October 15, 2015). Ottawa Law Review, Vol. 47, No. 1, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Elaine Craig (Contact Author)

Dalhousie University - Schulich School of Law ( email )

6061 University Avenue
Halifax, Nova Scotia

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