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
12 February 2007

Jonny Steinberg: leaders depressed

Jonny Steinberg has an interesting piece in the Business Day this morning, arguing that our leaders are ashamed of us for not being better human beings. To acknowledge that crime is a problem is to acknowledge that our people do crime.

It’s the same impulse that turned President Mbeki into an Aids denialist. To admit to the reality that Aids was a huge problem was to admit to the reality that many South Africans had a lot of sex with a lot of people. This would be difficult to admit if you were a bit sex-phobic and actually thought that the stereotype of voracious black sexuality was a bad thing.

In any case Steinberg concludes:

During the apartheid years, the liberation movement fashioned an image of the South African masses as inherently dignified, rising above their circumstances to throw off the shackles of oppression. Sure, there were pathologies, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed by civilised public policy, nothing that couldn’t be mended by the acquisition of power. If the cream of SA’s activists and exiles had been canvassed in April 1994, I doubt whether any would have questioned the proposition that crime would slowly decrease, our overflowing jails begin to empty, our people find a good deal more peace and equanimity in the texture of everyday life.

Instead, governance has been hard, hard, hard, SA’s pathologies so frustratingly stubborn. I think that under President Thabo Mbeki our government has begun to feel that the nation it inherited is dispiritingly and congenitally ordinary. Under Mbeki, a government has fallen out of love with its people, perhaps even feels shunned and betrayed by them.

And so it becomes too difficult for leaders to call a press conference and declare that they share our pain because the pain itself inspires too much shame. They cannot tell us that they will do their best to bring this and that crime down, because they have become convinced that their best isn’t good enough. Nothing is.

I think that our government is in a moment of depression. I think it is denying its depression. It needs to snap out of it. It needs to govern.

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