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Criticising the Judiciary

11 September 2003 Media Statement

Criticising the Judiciary

Attorney-General Margaret Wilson today reminded all Members of Parliament of their responsibility to demonstrate restraint and respect when commenting on judges or the courts.

“Judges have sworn an oath to do justice without fear or favour. I am sure all MPs agree the Judiciary is entitled to exercise their judgment without pressure or influence.

“While decisions of the courts and conduct of judges have always been open to discussion and criticism, and robust debate is part of an open democratic society, MPs might like to consider the good reasons for being measured and rational as they exercise the considerable influence they have when they speak out as elected representatives.

“MPs and Ministers have greater responsibilities than the public. Members of the public will have their own views, and even though they have not heard the arguments in the courtroom nor be aware of what the law requires, they are generally entitled to say what they like.

“This is not the case with MPs and Ministers, because of the constitutional division of power between Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary. There is natural tension between them and each tries to operate independently of the others.

“Constitutionally the Judges’ role is to speak through their judgements. They steer clear of the political fray. The converse convention is that MPs’ criticism of judges is kept within reasonable limits, so the administration of justice is not brought into disrepute.

“It is similar to the responsibility placed on MPs not to attack public servants, who also cannot respond to criticism because it would jeopardise their neutrality.

“There is nothing wrong with a politician advocating a change to the law. But attacking a judge personally, either directly or by implication, risks bringing the judiciary into disrepute. Unfounded attacks on judges are unfair and not in anyone’s best interests.”


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