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Howard's End: Justice Be Damned!

Judicial tantrums, rudeness, rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, belittling comments in front of clients and comments to clients families; this is a system in crisis with the public the meat in the sandwich. Justice be damned! Maree Howard writes.

In a dialogue column published in the NZ Herald this morning, a prominent South Auckland lawyer, Ted Faleauto, has found it necessary to defend criticism of lawyers and publicly slam judges who display bad traits of behaviour.

But it's not just the "justice" system which is in crisis. I have recently seen letters from a government department that has policies which makes a thing mandatory, while the actual legislation allows for the exercise of wide discretionary powers.

There is a cavern of difference between what a policy might say is mandatory and what the legislation provides as discretionary.

Is it any wonder, then, that a public servant was able to write with confidence that case law is not critical to day-to-day management. I would have thought judgements of the courts setting limits of powers were absolutely critical to a fair, just and reasonable system which exists solely to serve the public.

But when some judges behave badly, what can we expect from our public servants except high costs to try and defend and overturn their injustices.

The culture and mindset of disrespect, bad behaviour and manipulation of the law rather than respecting it, first identified within IRD, remains in government departments.

Couple this with the extortionate increase in court filing fees of up to 600% from July and access to justice, and justice itself in this country, is a joke.

Then there is the record of wrongful conviction, slap-happy police practices and heartless prosecutors all adding to a system in crisis and the public can have little confidence in it.

Justice has been squeezed out of the system A system that convicts innocents on serious charges is certain to convict innocents on less serious charges as well. A judge who behaves in the manner described, adds to public unease.

In the Manukau case, lawyer Ted Faleauto, was responding to earlier criticism from Judge John Clapham that lawyers at the Manukau District Court were tardy and disrespectful.

Former Chief District Court Judge, Ron Young, had also backed the judiciary against lawyers in criticising the work of some counsel.

But Faleauto says as far as lack of courtesy between counsel and the judiciary, it is the judges who display the worst behaviour in these interactions.

He is scathing of judges who roll their eyes, shake their heads, sigh loudly, look at the clock or appeared bored while defence counsel are questioning witnesses or speaking in trials.

Faleauto says this can affect the jury's opinion. And he's right because jurors are human and will clearly be influenced by a person sitting in authority in front of them. Justice has not only to be done - it must be seen to be done.

"At status hearings, judges put pressure on counsel and clients to plead guilty, yet seldom put similar pressure on the prosecution," Faleauto says.

"Sometimes also, counsel have to demand to be heard on matters because judges try to railroad their decisions without giving counsel a fair (or any) opportunity to be heard," he says.

And, he says, a meeting between judges and lawyers about the complaints of judges was not a one-sided discussion. It seems the lawyers gave as good as they got but only the judges comments appeared in the media, until now.

I say, go for it Ted! Try to sort out a justice system which is short on justice. And don't worry - if you're on target you'll get flak.

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