Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A pyrrhic victory

Supreme Court judge Justice Bill Wilson has been successful in getting the High Court to overturn the recommendation of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner to form a judicial conduct panel to investigate his conflicts of interest. But while an apparent victory, when you look at the grounds of the decision, its nothing of the sort:

Justice Wilson sought a judicial review of that decision and has been successful on the grounds that the written recommendation failed to form an actual opinion as required to do under the Judicial Conduct Commissioner and Judicial Conduct Panel Act 2004.

The High Court also found that the commissioner needs to identify the matter or matters concerning the judge's alleged conduct that he believes warrants further inquiry by the panel.

So, the JCC will go back and reissue an opinion which is specific about the matters to be investigated and forms a provisional view about Wilson's misbehaviour. Which likely isn't going to make Wilson look any better.

But beyond that, the problem for Wilson is that he has already failed to meet the standard required to remain in office. The integrity and impartiality of our judges must be beyond question. Wilson's clearly isn't. He could perhaps have redeemed himself by submitting completely and fully to the judicial conduct panel and hoping to be cleared. The fact that he hasn't done that (and in fact has fought it tooth and nail) makes him look guilty.

No, that's not fair. But the standard Wilson is being judged by is not criminal or judicial, but political. The public are entitled to demand the very highest standards from our judges. Wilson no longer meets those standards. And that means he should resign.