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  • Writer's pictureSam Wilks

Judicial Independence Under Threat: A Territorian's Perspective

Judicial independence is the cornerstone of a free and just society. It ensures that the judiciary can make decisions free from external pressures, particularly from the political sphere. However, in various countries around the world, this independence is increasingly under threat. These threats come in different forms, ranging from political interference to economic pressures, and they undermine the very fabric of justice and fairness in society.

The concept of judicial independence isn’t merely a legal principle but a fundamental aspect of a fair society. It's rooted in the belief that justice should be administered impartially, without fear or favour. When judges are subject to external pressures, the scale of justice tilts and the rule of law weakens. This idea is echoed in the writings of various judicial philosophers and economists, who emphasise the importance of independent institutions for the functioning of a democratic society.

Globally, there are numerous instances where judicial independence has been compromised. In some countries, governments have exerted pressure on the judiciary to influence decisions in their favour. This can take the form of threatening judges with removal, manipulating the appointment process, or through more insidious means such as offering bribes or other incentives. Establishing tribunals and civil administrative councils, whose appointments are more influenced by the political party in power than by adherence to the constitution or the rule of law, is another unsettling strategy to undermine the credibility of the judiciary.

Turning to Australia, and particularly the Northern Territory, the situation reflects a broader global trend. While Australia's judicial system is generally robust, there have been plenty of instances that raise concerns. For example, political comments and criticisms aimed at court decisions can be perceived as attempts to sway judicial opinion. This is particularly evident in high-profile cases where public opinion is strongly polarised. There have been several controversial appointments and complaints against judges in recent years, raising questions about the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.

Unique challenges make the situation worse in the Northern Territory. The territory's small size and close-knit legal community often blur the lines between the judiciary and other branches of government. There have been reported instances where the impartiality of judicial decisions has been questioned, raising concerns about the independence of the judiciary.

From a psychological perspective, the threat to judicial independence has far-reaching implications. It leads to a general mistrust in the legal system, where the public begins to view judicial decisions through a lens of scepticism, questioning the motives behind rulings rather than the legal rationale. This erodes the societal contract and leads to a decrease in public compliance with laws.

Economically, a judiciary perceived as biassed or corrupt deters investment, as businesses require a predictable and fair legal environment to operate effectively. This is particularly relevant in the context of economic policies and property rights, areas where judicial decisions have direct economic consequences. The actions of our current Chief Minister, a sitting MLA, in back-dating regulations to directly impact the investment and development of much-needed residential accommodation have led to at least two major construction companies choosing to avoid the Northern Territory. Her blatant dishonesty on the ABC, promising $100,000 payouts to help first-home buyers that were caught up in a government-private partnership that built substandard accommodations, has further damaged her reputation and credibility.

From a security and risk management viewpoint, the undermining of judicial independence leads to an increase in corruption and a decrease in public safety. In a system where judicial outcomes can be influenced, the rule of law weakens, leading to a society where rules are seen as purchaseable. This erosion of trust and confidence in the legal system ultimately erodes the foundation of a democratic society.

The independence of the judiciary is vital for the maintenance of a just and fair society. While the global trend shows increasing threats to this independence, it is crucial for countries, including Australia and regions like the Northern Territory, to remain vigilant. Safeguarding judicial independence requires constant effort and vigilance from all sectors of society, including the legal community, the government, and the public at large. It is only through a collective commitment to the principles of impartial justice that the scales of justice can remain balanced.

From the author. The opinions and statements are those of Sam Wilks and do not necessarily represent whom Sam Consults or contracts to. Sam Wilks is a skilled and experienced Security Consultant with almost 3 decades of expertise in the fields of Real estate, Security, and the hospitality/gaming industry. His knowledge and practical experience have made him a valuable asset to many organizations looking to enhance their security measures and provide a safe and secure environment for their clients and staff.

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