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The Meaning Of Justice And Impartiality

Posted on 17th April 2017

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This story on the BBC is both upsetting and worrying.

A judge in Bradford in the UK, Jonathan Durham Hall QC, has been disciplined for offering to pay a victim surcharge penalty for a girl who admitted attacking a man who had sexually assaulted her when she was younger, after the judge imposed a two-year youth rehabilitation order. The judge is accused of failing to demonstrate "impartiality".

It seems to me that the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice fail to understand the meaning of impartiality, and the role of a judge in balancing the requirements of both enforcing the law and ensuring justice.

The girl has been censured and punished, and that is on her record. A judge has a degree of discretion in deciding sentence, but there are some things that are imposed as a matter of administrative procedure, such as the victim surcharge. If the judge decides that payment of this surcharge is not just, it is his right and his duty to offer to pay it. Failure to do so would have been a dereliction of his duty.

If judges are prevented from exercising their discretion, or punished when they do, then we are no better off than if we had the science-fiction scenario of a robot judge who simply follows predefined rules. If we end up with that system, it will be a sorry day indeed.