A law unto themselves

A law unto themselves

I don’t really know anything about this judge beyond her name but that is a good thing. For this isn’t about any one individual. It is not about any individual judge and their failings or their qualities. It is not about any particular case. It is not, therefore, about the defendant either, who was accused of punching two people in a takeaway. 

In all honesty I don’t think I’d like to spend an evening in the company of either judge or defendant. No, this is about the machinery of law. The machinery, if we are being idealistic, of justice.

A judge recently stated in court in Portlaoise that she was ‘sick to the back teeth’ of defendants in her court looking for interpreters in order to fully understand proceedings. In fact she went a lot further than this. The judge stated that these defendants ‘have no need of an interpreter when they go to buy their hooch. They don’t need assistance when they’re signing on for social welfare.’

Fair play to the judge, at least she got to the point quickly. No dancing around the point with this judge. She did her sums quickly.

Interpreter = immigrant = boozer = scrounger.

It almost made me nostalgic. For the good old days of growing up in England where Paddy was a thick drunkard and police and judiciary had no hesitation in reminding him of that. They might also bang him up for eighteen years or so for things he didn’t do but no one would argue there is a link between low level distaste for the immigrant and a willingness to mistreat him or her at the highest level. I mean it does make logical sense and should certainly appeal to someone as clearly adept at sums as the judge but no one could realistically make that link. That would be an Appalling Vista.

If there is a defence of the judge’s remarks I’m afraid I don’t have the legal training to find them. The deliverance of justice through the courts of law does indeed seem an often laborious thing. It seems, to the lay person, to take an inordinate amount of time. It is littered with arcane procedures, in Ireland, ironically enough, arcane procedures left over from our previous imperial masters.

Justice labours through bureaucracy. But then law courts are serious places. I can’t imagine they’re places to take short cuts. Decisions made there have serious implications for people’s lives. Very serious implications for everyone involved and their loved ones. The idea that someone facing charges in court should be able to understand what is going on around them, such as what they are being charged with, is a fundamental human right. It is a right afforded by any decent society. Indeed if we have a society that depends upon the rule of law then basic access to the understanding of those laws is not a luxury but a necessity.

I’m not sure if the judge has ever been fed up to the back teeth with the white collar criminals who have cost this country millions and millions. I hope she has because if she hasn’t but has been fed up with those merely costing us interpretation fees then her sums might not be as good as I first thought they were. I worry, too, taking her own words as evidence, that the good judge’s bias against certain sections of our society might impede the practice of justice she is paid to implement. If we consider that the three countries topping the list of court interpretations are Poland, Romania and Lithuania, the further worry is that the Honourable judge might not even understand how the European Union works.

I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to suggest that judges primarily belong to the most economically and socially privileged sections of Irish society. I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to suggest that judges primarily started out in that section of society too. I don’t think either, that their own backgrounds and status in mind, that it is too wild to hope they might be trained in awareness of society and how society works for those, like immigrants for instance, who might appear in front of them. Especially as that is simply their job. Especially as they are getting paid for it. If they can’t instinctively or humanely battle their own social and class prejudices they might be reminded that they are paid to do just that.

And are we still, by the way, going to insist Ireland doesn’t have a class system? Or a strain of chauvinistic nationalism? Despite the evidence?