Attacks on Judicial Discretion

Andrew Hamilton, writing for Eureka Street, points out the true significance of the current spate of attacks on judges and magistrates for their supposed lenient sentences for supposed African youth gangs by politicians and the media allies of said politicians.

It is the kind of attack that needs to be resisted by the citizenry of Australia lest those same citizens find no one capable of exercising judicial discretion when they are dragged before a court.

The current attack on judicial discretion and the pressure to impose blanket penalties are concerning. They are part of a broader movement to remove from officials the discretion to measure the law to circumstances and to persons, with the effect that the will of the executive is made absolute.

It is now common for politicians to attack judges whose decisions do not meet government expectations, and for attorneys-general to refuse to defend judges against attack. This has harmful consequences. Precisely because judges are an easy populist target, the conventions of respect that surround them are important. They support the trust of citizens that the weakest in society will have recourse against tyranny and the abuse of power. That trust is fragile. It demands support in a democratic society, particularly from its elected representatives.