Quote of the week

Although judicial proceedings will generally be bound by the requirements of natural justice to a greater degree than will hearings before administrative tribunals, judicial decision-makers, by virtue of their positions, have nonetheless been granted considerable deference by appellate courts inquiring into the apprehension of bias. This is because judges ‘are assumed to be [people] of conscience and intellectual discipline, capable of judging a particular controversy fairly on the basis of its own circumstances’: The presumption of impartiality carries considerable weight, for as Blackstone opined at p. 361 in Commentaries on the Laws of England III . . . ‘[t]he law will not suppose possibility of bias in a judge, who is already sworn to administer impartial justice, and whose authority greatly depends upon that presumption and idea’. Thus, reviewing courts have been hesitant to make a finding of bias or to perceive a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of a judge, in the absence of convincing evidence to that effect.

L'Heureux-Dube and McLachlin JJ
Livesey v The New South Wales Bar Association [1983] HCA 17; (1983) 151 CLR 288
31 March 2011

The JSC, in its answering affidavit sworn to by a member who is a senior advocate, refused to divulge the relevant facts by stating that it was the policy of the JSC ‘not to publish how members voted with regard to any particular decision’ and that ‘the JSC has never published the particulars of the vote with regard to the size of the majority and the way each member decided’. An evasive answer like this by senior counsel on behalf of a body like the JSC cannot be countenanced. It is the number of members who voted either way, not their identities, that is relevant. The JSC knew that this information was crucial for the determination of an issue legitimately raised and upon which the court would be required to adjudicate. Nor is this attitude of the JSC reconcilable with our constitutional democracy which values openness and transparency, and this is particularly so when regard is had to the constitutional functions and obligations of the JSC. – Supreme Court of Appeal in a judgment challenging the exclusion of the Western Cape Premier from a JSC hearing

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