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
26 October 2023

On contempt of court and free speech

The freedom to debate the conduct of public affairs by the judiciary does not mean that attacks, however scurrilous, can with impunity be made on the judiciary as an institution or on individual judicial officers. A clear line cannot be drawn between acceptable criticism of the judiciary as an institution, and of its individual members, on the one side and on the other side statements that are downright harmful to the public interest by undermining the legitimacy of the judicial process as such. But the ultimate objective remains: courts must be able to attend to the proper administration of justice and — in South Africa possibly more importantly — they must be seen and accepted by the public to be doing so. Without the confidence of the people, courts cannot perform their adjudicative role, nor fulfil their therapeutic and prophylactic purpose.

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