Tuesday, June 20, 2006

When Can Judges Break Silence Over Attacks?

There is an interesting controversy in the UK right now involving the reaction of judges to some very vocal attacks on the British judiciary because of what certain tabloids and politicians see as lenient sentences.

In a BBC interview, one senior judge decided to break with the tradition that holds that judges must remain silent. Council of Circuit Judges secretary Keith Cutler told the broadcaster that many of the judges he represents were deeply affected by personal attacks.

The Times reported that the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor have said that such attacks can undermine the judiciary.

Gary Slapper, a law professor at the Open University and a contributor to the Times law blog, has called for the continuation of judicial restraint: "Such debate, however dignified the contributions of judges, would demean the judicial process. It would politicise the court room. In a democracy, judges must judge cases and sentence offenders according to the law. That is all. They cannot engage in an ongoing dialogue with the pubs, coffee bars, and staff tea rooms of Britain about sentences in particular cases".

But Slapper also adds that politicians should adopt the attitude of "I cannot comment on that case because I do not know all the relevant facts and details."

Such attacks on judges do also occasionally occur in Canada. We all remember the recent attacks against Canada's Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, falsely accused by one government MP of believing the Supreme Court had "God-like" powers. She decided to respond through the Court's executive legal officer. The politician resigned from the House of Commons committee he chaired.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 8:11 pm

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