Gagging judicial dissent in NT
Alice Springs-based community group, Central Australian Youth Justice (CAYJ) has deplored the call by the Northern Territory Chief Minister Denis Burke for members of the NT judiciary who disagree with mandatory sentencing to resign. CAYJ spokesperson Teresa O'Sullivan pointed out that Mr Burke is not just the Chief Minister. He is also the Attorney-General, technically the first law officer of the Territory. It is traditionally the role of the Attorney to defend the judiciary from attack, Ms O'Sullivan noted, and it was extraordinary and completely unacceptable that he instead takes every opportunity to attack its members. "Almost every judge and magistrate in the NT has criticised these laws from the bench. Mr Burke says this compromises the independence of the judiciary, presumably on the basis that judges should keep out of politics", said Ms O'Sullivan. "But Mr Burke should realise that mandatory sentencing laws put judges and magistrates in an impossible position, by preventing them from discharging their duty to be consistent in sentencing offenders." Ms O'Sullivan said it was entirely appropriate and responsible for them to draw attention to this legal issue by commenting on it, as indeed they do in relation to many legal issues which arise in the course of their deliberations. That is, after all, their job. "Mr Burke's standover tactics are an affront to the Territory's constitutional structure, and an insult to our judiciary, who must be permitted to apply the law in an environment free of political intimidation and interference."