WITH LAW and order bidding wars likely to heat up in the coming months as several governments head for the polls, a Victorian Supreme Court judge has appealed for less unbalanced “judge bashing” in the media.
“The picture painted by the media of insensitive judges who favour criminals over innocent victims is a simplistic travesty of the reality,” Justice Geoffrey Eames told the Melbourne Press Club last week.
“No judge or magistrate I have known has taken sentencing lightly.”
He said the judiciary also needed to “embrace” the media and its court reporting as a vital part of the judicial system and a functioning democracy, but editors needed to look behind the emotional outbursts of victims.
“Judges and magistrates appreciate the powerful emotions and the conflicting perspectives which accompany any criminal case,” he said.
“Far from the judiciary being insensitive to victims, they are acutely aware of the trauma of crime, but they must conscientiously consider the position of the convicted person, too.”
Bias could often be avoided if journalists took the trouble to report a judge’s reasons for a sentence, he said.
As well, while comments from the victims in a case were always reported, Justice Eames said the accused and their family often didn’t get the same opportunity.
“In very many cases, I suggest that the accused and his or her supporters would complain that the sentence was harsh and unfair, or was a result of media pressure on the judge,” he said.
He said the comments from victims that are reported usually follow the hearing, and often include facts that were not placed before the court.
The many other factors besides the impact on the victim that the judge must take into account also often went unreported.
In the end, he said, it was no use casting blame in the present “standoff” between the media and the judiciary.
He said judges and journalists could learn from “informed and balanced criticism” from each other.“[There should be] a serious effort … on both sides to facilitate each other’s important role in the community.”