The above Latin phrase means as “Who guards the guardians?” It has been a problem in civil societies for a long time.
The legal establishment is no exception. Who judges our judges, if at all? And how should judgment be accomplished?
[W]hat’s the quality of the justice like in…courts and tribunals? Which are the most courteous and compassionate of judicial officers? Who takes too long to hand down judgments? And where do individual judges, magistrates and tribunal members stand when it comes to impartiality?
These are all reasonable questions to ask, yet try getting answers to them. You won’t. Our courts are relatively unaccountable to those who use their services. There is no league table of judges, for example. But why shouldn’t there be? …
It’s time to establish a ratings system for Australian courts, along the lines of the American website, The Robing Room. The Robing Room allows lawyers and litigants from across America to rate judges according to a series of criteria such as temperament; scholarship; industriousness; ability to handle complex litigation; punctuality; evenhandedness in civil and criminal litigation and so on.
It’s a useful tool for lawyers and litigants. In Australia, if you haven’t appeared before a judge or a magistrate previously, you are forced to ring around your colleagues to find out what he or she “is like.” How much easier it would be to simply log on to an Australian Robing Room and get some relatively impartial and empirical information, along side some colour about the individual, yourself.
Of course, there’s already an informal Australian Robing Room in cafes, solicitor’s offices, barristers chambers and in courtroom antechambers, as stories are swapped about judges’ eccentricities, foibles and qualities. All that information and intelligence should be brought together on one easily accessible site. …
It’s an interesting idea. The problem is that, statistically speaking, you would have to obtain an awful lot of votes before you got a fair picture of a judge’s reputation.
Our system is adversarial – usually, someone has to win and someone has to lose. That means one party is always going to be unhappy, at least to a degree. When I looked at The Robing Room site, the few profiles which I checked out had only one vote each. You’re just going off one person’s impression, and that person might have a totally off-the-wall opinion about a judge. The difference with consulting a colleague about a particular judge is that hopefully you would consult a trustworthy colleague. But who is to say whether the people who vote are trustworthy?
First, is there a way of preventing the same person from voting over and over? I presume so. But how can this be regulated fairly? You might have a very good experience in one trial before a particular judge, and a less positive experience in a later trial. You should be able to cast a vote in relation to both trials, surely? What if someone gets heaps of different people to vote on their behalf to skew the results for a judge?
Secondly, there’s that old business saying that a satisfied customer tells 1 or 2 people, but a dissatisfied customer tells at least 10 other people. I think that there’s a degree of truth in this. Just as a matter of human nature, I would think that dissatisfied litigants are more likely to comment on a website than satisfied litigants (although I would be interested to hear if anyone has any research or knowledge about this).
Finally, I think the experience of going to an all girls school and watching elections for “student positions” made me cynical for life. What if a judge’s score came down to who was a better “self-promoter” rather than who was the better judge?
As Peter outlined in a further post, a US website purporting to grade attorneys suffers from a lack of credibility. Experienced and well-regarded attorneys have been graded badly, disbarred attorneys have been graded well. It illustrates the point starkly.
Of course, every lawyer knows that particular judges have a “reputation” in the legal community. Some judges are known to be slow in writing judgments, some are known to be incompetent in particular areas, some are known to be intemperate, some are known to be kind, some are harsh but fair. There’s a variety, just like any other profession.
I think it is important to have some kind of feedback system so that a litigant, solicitor or barrister who feels he or she has been treated unfairly can raise it with somebody in government (perhaps with the Legal Ombudsman). But I just don’t think that a website with grades is the way to go.
If I were trying to work out what a judge was like to appear before, I’d still rather contact a trusted colleague.
(Via Freedom to Differ)