Courting Disaster by Trevor Plumbly
“To get what you want, stop doing what isn’t working.” Earl Warren, former USA Chief Justice.
Normally, I start writing a blog by sitting down and thumping out what’s crossed my mind, then I sort of scrub it up, flash it to Ang for professional punctuation (blind people don’t do commas and full stops terribly well), then I tend to forget it and move on. Sadly, it seems that my old chum ‘Hoffar’ is not prepared to allow me to do this on the subject of the law. At the risk of restating my previous observations, I assert that, amongst its other ailments, the law is too overburdened with outdated precedents and in my humble lay opinion, overly strangled by tradition to enable it to function properly in modern times. Lawyers, it seems to me, have high-jacked the system to the extent that justice is delivered by the pace they dictate, aided of course by the apparent infinity of the appeal process and the largesse of legal aid; to be absolutely cynical, there’s probably less profit in speedy justice while obsolete rigmarole is still regarded as essential to the judicial process.
“Somewhere out there, beyond the walls of the Courthouse, run currents and tides of public opinion which lap at the Courthouse door.” William. H. Renqhuist, former USA Chief Justice.
It was a noble sentiment but sadly the waters seem to just lap at the threshold rather than actually enter and leave a tide mark to remind those within that their function is to deliver justice for us, not hoard it for themselves. How can those within the system expect respect from the public when they lack the powers or will to act in the face of arrant stupidity? In a recent case here, a student refused to cut his hair and he and the school took the case to the High Court, at God knows what cost to the public purse or the judicial calendar.
Then of course there’s the imbalance in judicial sentencing: the system that places such a high value on precedence, doesn’t regard consistency in the same light. Recently the son of our Maori King was found guilty on a variety of charges that would in normal circumstances have carried a probational sentence at the very least. In what I can only assume to be a judgement based on a flood of grandmaternal emotion rather than judicial insight, Her Honour released him without conviction on the grounds that a guilty finding could affect his ascendency to the throne. Talk about justice for all! In another case, a politician found guilty of falsifying electoral funding returns waited a week to be found guilty by a judge who then found himself unable to pronounce any sentence for over two months, coincidentally until just days after a general election.
“Trials by the adversarial system contest, must in time, go the way of the ancient trial by battle and blood.” Warren E Burger, former USA Chief Justice.
From biblical times, the law has always sought its pound of flesh in one chapter whilst promoting forgiveness and mercy in another – both human and understandable emotions – but isn’t that part of the current problem? Surely if it’s to be effective, emotion shouldn’t be a factor in deciding guilt or innocence, yet lawyers are given carte blanche to play the poverty, race, mental capacity and any other mitigating cards they can pull out of the deck to engage a jury’s sympathy. Shouldn’t the law exist to deliver justice through intelligent debate and consideration rather than bury it in verbal theatrics? In an age where access and information are available at a previously unimagined speed, the law continues to lumber along years behind public requirements.
So, in conclusion, was Rolf Harris’s sentence justified? I guess so, but, all that time, energy, expense and emotion, to send a dirty old man of 84 to prison for three years?
“The Law is a ASS.” Charles Dickens.
I’m worried about you Plum, after a long life of absolute waffle, in your dotage, you’re actually starting to make sense. My criticism today is not of you but of Burger CJ’s inability to see the wood for the trees. His prophecy, ‘Trials by the adversarial system contest, must in time, go the way of the ancient trial by battle and blood’ completely misses the point: Trial by adversarial system contest IS trial by battle and blood!