Since her husband was first suspected of murdering their twin daughters in 2002, Jennifer Hart has stood by her man.
Now, she wants to stand up for him.
When the case of Nelson Hart was called in the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal in St. John’s Wednesday, an application was made to have Jennifer appointed her husband’s guardian ad litem.
The legal term refers to an advocate who has legal authority to act on behalf of a person who is unable to make sound decisions on their own due to reasons such as disability or incapacity.
Used rarely in criminal cases, such guardians are more often used for children whose parents are involved in a custody battle, or in civil matters for a person with a medical condition that renders them incapacitated, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The application was presented by Jennifer Hart’s lawyer, Robbie Ash, who appeared via video conference from Corner Brook.
“The application is being filed as a result of concerns Mrs. Hart has about his (psychiatric) condition,” Ash told the three-member panel of judges.
“Her position is he suffers from a disability.”
Ash said it’s a last-ditch effort by his client to try to help her husband with his appeal.
When Chief Justice Derek Green asked Ash what a guardian ad litem would add to the process, Ash said Hart’s wife could help her husband sort through the court documents involved in the appeal and help him understand the process.
“It would ensure there’s a fair appeal,” Ash said.
Hart has fired several lawyers, refused legal help at times and has been unable to instruct whatever counsel he’s had. Ash said Jennifer could act in her husband’s interests.
Ash said while lawyer Randy Piercey is the case’s amicus curiae, or impartial adviser, he is not an advocate for the Harts.
Jennifer Hart was in the courtroom for proceedings, but Nelson Hart didn’t take part. He was supposed to appear via video link from the Atlantic Institution in Renous, N.B., but he once again refused to come out of his cell, as he did the last time the case was called in June.
The Gander man is serving a life sentence for two counts of first-degree murder for drowning his twin three-year-old daughters, Karen and Krista, at Gander Lake. He was convicted in 2007 and is ineligible for parole until at least 2032.
While family members, including his mother Pearl, have expressed concern about Hart’s mental health, no medical evidence of any such illness has never presented in court.
Corrections Canada has denied requests for medical information about Hart, citing privacy rules.
Over the five years of wrangling trying to get the appeal underway, Hart has often been non-responsive and disruptive during court proceedings and has refused to show up several times.
“He’s sick,” Jennifer told this reporter, who had asked about her husband’s condition prior to the start of proceedings Wednesday.
Afterwards, she refused requests for interviews and left quickly.
When Green asked the lawyers their position on the application, Crown prosecutor Steve Dawson questioned whether there were legal grounds for such a application in this circumstance. Nonetheless, he said Ash should be given an opportunity to present further detail.
The only issue Piercey had was that he’s been unable to access Hart’s psychiatric reports, since Hart refuses to waive privilege to allow him to see them.
A legal guardian could at least get that information, Piercey said.
Despite the numerous delays which have already held up the appeal, Green said, “in the interest of justice,” the panel would allow the application to be heard.
The hearing date was set for Sept. 15.
The date of Hart’s appeal was rescheduled for Oct 18 and, if necessary, Oct. 19.