Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tyranny in the courtroom

The Dominion Post reports that a Gisborne judge jailed a man for 28 days for swearing at him in court. While judges clearly need the power to keep order in their courtrooms, this is also clearly grossly disproportionate. There's also this:

Judge Adeane said James Kennedy Grant's abuse came at the end of a week of "bad manners" in Gisborne District Court last week. "At least one defendant having been denied bail chose to make a thoroughly obscene outburst ... one individual walked across the back of the seats [in the public gallery], a phone rang in the pocket of one individual twice."
So the victim isn't just being punished for their own outburst, but those of others - something which goes against the core principles of justice.

This judge's actions have brought the court into disrepute, cast doubt upon the fairness of sentencing in general, and highlighted the need for checks on judicial power. Currently that power to hold people in contempt is not subject to any real checks or proper scrutiny. Judges can jail people for a month on a whim, or simply because they are in a bad mood (as has also clearly happened in this case). And that makes every single one of them a tyrant in their own courtroom.

Tyranny cannot be tolerated. We are a society of laws, not men. Our judges are the last exception to that, each exercising the lawless and arbitrary powers of a C17th absolute monarch. That has to change. We've emasculated and tamed our politicians and made them subject to the law; its time we did the same to our judges.