Here’s a genuine “dog bites man” story. Politicians
belting up on judges is no longer news, but today’s Advertiser
reports that “Chief Justice John Doyle has written to Premier Mike Rann, warning
he was in danger of undermining public confidence in the court system and asking
him to restrain his comments on the judiciary”.

If this catches on, Australia Post may need extra
staff to cope with the volume of mail flying between the courts and various
state leaders. That old political hand, Laura Norda, can always be relied upon
to turn a trick, especially when state election time looms.

The ‘Tiser obtained the letters under Freedom of
Information and Rann has predictably responded by saying he “will not be
censored”.

Meanwhile, the judiciary has also received support
from a somewhat unexpected quarter. Michael
Duffy
in the weekend Herald complained about political “cheap shots” that were
undermining the judicial system.

Duffy went to the trouble of sitting in on a
sentence hearing – now there’s an idea that needs to catch on – and found it
“impressive”: “The busy NSW justice system, far from allowing violent criminals
to evade their fate, is generally operating in a fair and consistent
manner.”

As Duffy notes, it is “not hard to find relatives
of murder victims prepared to go on television and say the killers should not be
set free”. Or any other victims for that matter. In fact, it’s just about the
laziest journalism around (second only to overheated reports based on opinion
polls). What else would a victim say?

It is a pity one swallow doesn’t make a summer,
because conservatives – in theory the great supporters of the rule of law and
our British system of justice – have driven the law and order auction that now
characterises politics in every state.

If conservatives changed tack, who knows, we could
end up having a sensible debate about justice, crime, punishment, rehabilitation
and whether Australia’s ballooning prison population represents good value for
money.

Peter Fray

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