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
15 March 2007

Another look at minimum sentencing

Zohra Dawood has an interesting piece in the Business Day this morning, arguing that minimum sentencing laws does not help to bring down crime levels. Money Quote:

It is my view that the challenge now is to begin to understand that minimum sentencing legislation is not the panacea for our crime problem. Rather, it is the certainty of punishment that is far more of a deterrent. Also, that sustained change will require substantial investment in the development of sound social policy on issues such as education, health and poverty alleviation.

I cannot agree more. But punishment is not only about deterrence. Punishment in criminal cases should also reflect, to some degree, the seriousness with which a society views different crimes. Punishment therefore has a strong symbolic function. When the criminal justice system fails to adequately punish even those few perpetrators convicted of rape and other violent crimes against women, it sends a signal that the system does not value women equally with men.

We will not stop rape by forcing judges to impose minimum sentences for rapists. But such laws will make judicial officers think again about their views on rape and will send a signal that as a society we abhor violence against women. Such a signal will be far more potent than the pious statements of politicians during the sixteen days of activism because it says we are prepared to put the power and the money of the state behind this effort to stop rape.

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