Allan Takes Aim Blog

Questions about Law and Justice

Posted on: 7 December 2010

First published  The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 7 December 2010

As I understand it – correct me if I’m wrong – Law is the system of rules society agrees to live by and Justice the penalty imposed when people breach these rules. Often, when the breach is very serious, a group of people from society – known as a jury – is asked to decide on the guilt or innocence of the accused but not the penalty imposed by a judge.

Due to changes in society, many now think some penalties imposed by judges no longer reflect the wishes of society. They think this happens because, when a jury finds someone guilty it does so with a particular penalty in mind yet cannot advise a judge of its wishes, leading many jurors to say inappropriate penalties have been imposed and that the system should be changed.

Should it? I ask because during recent discussions on a variety of issues with people from a wide range of professions, when the subject of law and justice was discussed, a lawyer remarked that today the law is for lawyers and that justice is often a matter of luck. In light of what some people often think are inappropriate penalties was this lawyer right?

Whether right or wrong the lawyer added, was that the law was now beyond the understanding of nearly everyone except lawyers (and even some of them); that it had developed a class structure with a law for the rich and a law for the poor; while for the poorer than poor there was little or no law and consequently little or no justice.

In a general discussion of this issue, someone remarked that media interest seemed focused on cases involving celebrities, public figures and other high profile people accused of serious felonies but that lower class offences heard in one of the Civil and Administrative Tribunals, usually merit only a brief, if any, mention. 

Take cases in the Residential Tenancies Tribunal as an example. When was the last time you heard or read of a case involving residential tenancies? If you haven’t it isn’t surprising because such cases rarely, if ever, receive publicity.

I can only guess at the reason for the media’s lack of interest. Could it be because they lack the sensationalism the media seems to want despite the fact that decisions made in the Tribunal are likely to have a more serious effect society than decisions made in cases that involve celebrities etc? Is this what the lawyer in the discussion meant?

Without casting aspersions on the Tribunal because evidence on oath is not mandatory but discretionary, I have heard, anecdotally, from people familiar with its workings, that truth often goes abegging. If true, in this Tribunal, then neither the cause of justice nor the interests of society are served. So, does this also require change?

Indeed, in recent case I know of where a lawyer represented the landlord the Tribunal made a decision in favour of the landlord that mystified the tenant and spectator lawyers. It should come as no surprise therefore, that outside the Tribunal, the unrepresented and outraged tenant was alleged to have quoted Mr Bumble, the Beadle in Oliver Twist, when describing the decision: “If the law supposes that, then the law is a ass, a idiot! If that’s the eye of the law, then the law is a bachelor. And the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience.”

It is unfortunate that tenants not wealthy enough to afford a lawyer are forced to plead their own case. The result is that their pleadings, truthful though they might be, are usually less persuasive than the pleadings of the skilled lawyer presenting a landlord’s case, resulting in decisions that lead to comments of the Mr Bumble kind.

Fortunately the Law Society understands the problem faced by people without the means to engage a lawyer or obtain legal aid. Equally fortunately among its members there are lawyers who, though it might be to their financial disadvantage, are more interested in justice than self-promotion and so are willing to provide pro bono legal assistance. I can but say that these lawyers deserve the community’s thanks.

 The Chronicle for Canberra’s best comunity news. Published every Tuesday


2 Responses to "Questions about Law and Justice"

Any ideas for a good free std dating site for people like me with herpes and hiv? Carol J.

Carol, haven’t had any need for such a site but if you know other people with these problems perhaps sites that deal with them will be able to steer you in the right direction

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