27 November 2019
Never joke with the press. Irony does not translate into newsprint.
I start with a quote on irony and the press, because we are in one of those ironic moments that lawyers often live in. As I write, a furious and largely ill-informed media tirade is being directed at judges and the sentences they levy on the guilty.
The thrust of this is—as always—that the sentences are too low and do not reflect community expectations. Nowhere that I can see has there been any genuine attempt to understand those sentences and once again journalism is reduced to op-ed clickbait.
The irony is, of course, that it is also at this time that journalists everywhere are turning to lawyers and judges to protect their right to report what the public needs to know (or at least what journalists think the public needs to know). We stand in front of the media, a shield between them and governmental over-reach, and the press enthusiastically kick us in the backside while we do so.
I am of course not saying that judges, magistrates or lawyers are beyond criticism, or should possess some form of immunity; far from it. If positive change is to be achieved, however, that criticism needs to be informed, and made with an understanding that judges (and all within the law) are bound by the law.
Judges cannot be swayed by populism or jump on the latest bandwagon, the way a politician or football coach might. Faced with criticism in the press, a football coach might elevate a popular player to the starting team, or make a positional switch favoured by media pundits; similarly a politician can express support for an initiative with widespread public support, or promise to repeal an unpopular law.
Not so a judge, who must operate within the bounds of the law as it stands, not as people might wish it to be. A judge does not write legislation and relies on parliament to pass laws which are workable and just and reflect public sentiment to the appropriate level.
If journalists and the public are unhappy with sentences handed down (or reduced on appeal) their beef is with the politicians (who set the rules) and not those who simply abide by them.
The legal profession will of course continue to stand up for freedom of the press and the public’s right to know and continue to run the cases that enforce those rights. We do so in the hope, however, that the media will use the freedom we win for them thoughtfully and with integrity.
On to other matters, and in the upcoming weeks I will have the honour of catching up with many of the Society’s Accredited Specialists, at our Specialist Accreditation Christmas Breakfasts. The Society celebrates the achievement of competence in various areas of practice at these complementary breakfasts for accredited specialists.
I am looking forward to honouring those who are joining these hallowed ranks, and hope to see as many of you as I can there. If anyone is interested in undertaking specialist accreditation (which I stress is not for the faint-hearted and is a genuine test of knowledge and ability) you can find further information here.
We are of course now truly in the heart of the Christmas Party season, and I hope you all have fun with a well-earned revel. Just make sure we all stay safe and happy.
Until next time,
Bill Potts, QLS President
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