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Top judge currying favour with Govt?

Top judge currying favour with Govt?

Thursday 10 Feb 2005

Stephen Franks - Press Releases - Crime & Justice

ACT Justice spokesman Stephen Franks today warned that Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias will be seen as currying favour with the Labour Government after more than a year of frostiness. "Whether she wants to or not she is supporting them in their embarrassment over their soft criminal justice policies," he said.

Mr Franks was responding to a speech by Dame Elias to a conference of criminologists yesterday, where she claimed longer prison sentences might not make communities safer.

"Supreme Court judges have been in a constitutionally extraordinary stand-off with Labour. Partly it has been about pay, rations and accommodation, after Cabinet rejected the judges' ideas on the new court building. But Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen - soon to be Attorney-General - joined me when he warned the judges in a speech last May to stop usurping the decisions of elected representatives.

"I am sure she's sincere but Dame Sian Elias' theories in the debate over whether punishment works would come as a gift from the gods for a government trying to avoid blame for not having enough prison space to cope with the violent crime wave. The Sentencing Act was a sophisticated scheme to look tough on headline cases, while being soft on others.

"It is extraordinarily unwise for judges who are supposed to be politically neutral to wade in to political debate. This is especially odd given that criminologists on the Chief Justice's side, still claiming that prison won't work, have been deeply embarrassed by the stunning success of former President Bill Clinton's justice reforms in the US. When our top judge joins in selectively citing faulty studies it just sends the message that judges are injecting their personal/political preferences into the law.

"It's clear that judges have ignored Parliament's instruction to impose sentences at the top end of the scale for the worst crimes. We know that Justice Minister Phil Goff did not want them to make those words mean what they say. It is sad for confidence in our justice system to see what looks like judges colluding with politicians to frustrate the public's common sense demands.

"It's not redneck presumption to interfere with this anointed elite's control of the justice system. It is vital to insist they apply the laws, not their pet theories," Mr Franks said.


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