Judgmental site stirs debate

By Sandra Conchie

Two Tauranga fathers, whose daughters were killed by the same man, have backed a website that criticises judges for bail decisions or sentences.

But two Tauranga defence lawyers have slammed the "Judge the Judges" site, created by the Sensible Sentencing Trust, saying it undermines the rule of the law and appeals to a mob mentality.

Twelve criminal cases feature on the site, including the Tauranga case of double killer Michael Curran who was bailed by High Court Justice Mark Cooper in 2005, following four unsuccessful bail hearings.

Curran was found guilty of killing Brian Brown's daughter Natasha Hayden, 24, who was found strangled in her car at McLaren Falls Park in January 2005. Nine months later, while on bail, Curran murdered Brad Morrissey's daughter Aaliyah, 2. The Sensible Sentencing Trust says the site was developed in response to feedback received over many years about judges' decisions that appeared to favour the offender over the victim/s or public safety.

The trust says the website is not only about naming and shaming judges for bad decisions but a forum to provide public awareness about how the court system works.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said the safeguard for sentencing mistakes was the appeals process, not in campaigning against judges.

"I'm also concerned about the potential for individual decisions to be presented out of context."

Victims' fathers

Brian Brown: "I think it adds a little bit of accountability to a system which wasn't there before. You'll see the website praises some judges and castigates others. Judges are not immune from making mistakes but if they do make a manifestly stupidly bad decision they should be held accountable."

Brad Morrissey: "I think it's a good idea as Curran being bailed after he was charged with Natasha's killing has got to be the worst bail decision in New Zealand history. New Zealand is too soft on violent offenders. Launching this website is better than sitting on our hands and doing nothing."

Tauranga defence lawyers

Paul Mabey QC: "The Sensible Sentencing Trust alleges its website is about judicial accountability and public education but that is a blatant fallacy. It's about revenge against those it disagrees with. The trust makes public statements that are neither sensible nor informed and appeal to a mob mentality with no regard to the rule of law. The Minister of Justice has said the website sounds like bullying. The Attorney-General called it unfair and inappropriate. Both are correct."

Bill Nabney: "I think this website seriously undermines the rule of law but I don't know whether anything can be done to stop it. It definitely attacks the independence of the judiciary. The bottom line is people need to understand there is an appeal process if people are dissatisfied with the decisions judges make, which has been ignored by this website."

Tauranga Sensible Sentencing Trust

Ken Evans: "The criticism of the website is not unexpected but I think it has been particularly well received by the wider community. The situation in New Zealand is, in terms of the law and who administers it, it's been largely unchallenged and unquestioned for many years. This is our attempt to make judges more accountable."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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