NZBA President on Sensible Sentencing Trust Website Proposal
Message from NZBA President re Sensible Sentencing Trust Web Site Proposal
The New Zealand Bar Association strongly deprecates the proposal by the Sensible Sentencing Trust to launch a web site said to be designed to “out bad judges”.
We join with the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General in condemning this proposal. The Bar Association regards the step as being ill-considered, totally unnecessary and likely to give rise to illegality as contempt of court.
What is being proposed amounts to little more than on-line talk back radio – likely to attract debate and comment of similar quality but with the added disadvantage (or advantage, depending upon one’s perspective) of being permanently available and accessible in the blogosphere.
Judges have an extremely difficult job. They are constantly required to make hard decisions under the mounting pressure of increasing case loads, exacerbated by diminishing resources. Their decisions are rightly the subject of appeal processes which are open and transparent. The daily work of a Judge in court is done publicly and is scrutinised by the news media. If the conduct of a judge is questioned, that conduct can be the subject of complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner.
In our society the freedom to criticise is a valued and protected right, but as with most rights there is concomitant responsibility. The responsibility here is that criticism of the judicial arm of our democracy must be responsible, accurate and measured. These characteristics are frequently absent on talk back radio and they are unlikely to be a feature of the invited public comment on this website, given its stated objective.
Making critical comments via email to a website affords the critic a degree of anonymity that is likely to encourage a lack of responsibility in what is said. This is likely to improperly and unfairly undermine public confidence in the administration of justice.
The Bar Association considers that the Trust’s proposed launching of this website is irresponsible and inconsistent with its professed aim of being sensible. The Association hopes that the Trust will reconsider its plans.
Stephen Mills QC
President, New Zealand Bar Association