The new website developed by the Sensible Sentencing Trust inviting the public to “judge the judges” has attracted more alarmed comment than it warrants.
Critics of the site worry about its focus on individual judges and fret that it may encourage contemptuous or defamatory attacks on judges. These concerns are overwrought.
As it is set up at present, the site is relatively innocuous and to the extent that it gives greater publicity to judges’ decisions and sentencing notes may do some good. …
Instead, the site presents a number of criminal cases in which, in the opinion of the site’s organisers, judges have given either particularly lenient or particularly commendable sentences to offenders.
Along with the Sensible Sentencing Trust’s critique of the sentence, the site also presents a link to the Ministry of Justice website so readers can form their own opinions from what the judge has said in his or her judgment and sentencing notes.
Those readers who bother to follow the links and read those documents will gain as good an insight as possible into the many competing, and often irreconcilable, factors that judges must take into account in trying to produce a just result in the cases before them.
I agree that the links to the case notes are a useful service.
While the website itself may be an incentive to redneck, talkback-style instant outcry about the leniency of this or that sentence, by making the official documents more widely available it also provides some antidote to it.
The silliest argument against a site critiquing judges’ decisions is that judges cannot answer back. The response to that is that they do not need to – their judgments speak for themselves, which is why judgments should be promptly available.
If further publicity is needed to protect a judge from unfair criticism, the Ministry of Justice has a large enough PR department to see it is done and in extreme cases there is nothing to inhibit the Attorney-General or Minister of Justice from speaking.
It will be interesting to see how many more cases end up on the site.