Irrespective of whether it be a criminal or a civil jurisdiction; the work of judges is pivotal to society, in ensuring the justice system is both fair and efficient. Historically the judiciary has been seen as a respectable outfit which makes tough decisions and should be applauded for its work in doing so. This though is beginning to change in the 21st century as the Lord Chief Justice claims judges are now subject to intimidation and abuse, greater than ever before.
When passing judgement on very serious cases, it is to be expected that a judge’s decision may not please everyone and a certain level of criticism is healthy if we are to have much needed reform in certain areas. However, Lord Burnett of Maldon went on to explain that this is only acceptable up to a point:
“Fair criticism is different from abuse. There were cases where judges face a torrent of personal abuse for decisions they have made – increasingly online and in social media – and a growing number of cases where judges are threatened and physically abused”
For the most part, judges do already have security of suit in the UK, meaning they cannot be sued based on a decision they make, However, his lordship also stated that the criticism can often be damning enough:
“Some is calculated to intimidate judges individually or collectively. Such abuse is capable of undermining the rule of law. Judicial independence and impartiality is at the heart of the rule of law”
The biggest problem though comes with the popularity of social media; allowing people of all ages and backgrounds to express their views with a degree of anonymity that they were never previously able to. Whilst not referenced directly by Burnett, this was particularly evident earlier this year when judges were labelled ‘enemies of the people ‘ post R (on the application of Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
It is also believed that the public needs to appreciate, just how much work is involved and how strenuous a judge’s job is. Burnett proposed a new counselling initiative for affected judges saying:
“Nobody should underestimate how difficult or harrowing it can be to deal regularly with family cases concerning child protection, or criminal cases involving serious violence or sexual abuse”
Plans are also in place to gradually modernise the courts system over the coming years; moving further away from a paper based system and favouring an online format. Minor traffic offences, including fare dodging are already dealt with online. It is hoped that many civil cases can soon be resolved online and out of the public domain, amongst other things this will reduce the scope for criticising decisions
Abusing judges is neither helpful nor excusable when considering the wider impact, it has on the judiciary. However, as stated by many leading barristers, media outlets both online and in print are largely to blame with many people too quick to take their word as gospel.