IT CANNOT be easy being a judge.

You have to weigh the evidence and, in the absence of a jury, make decisions which are life-changing.

One thinks of South Africa's Judge Thokozile Masipa who had to consider two conflicting stories in the Oscar Pistorius case and make a ruling under the relentless glare of worldwide attention - a ruling which earlier this month was overturned on appeal, leaving her reputation inevitably tarnished.

Even if your decision is not overturned, it is open to intense public scrutiny, with lobby groups like the Sensible Sentencing Trust in New Zealand only too eager to rubbish your efforts - though your knowledge of the law is far greater than theirs.

Advertisement

But we should be grateful for our judges and, as someone who has sat on two juries, I have a lot of sympathy for the idea of judge-only trials.

Judges are often seen as part of the establishment but every now and again their judgment reveals a particularly vital sense of independence.

Such a ruling came last week when Justice Denis Clifford in the High Court said the police raid on the home of journalist and Dirty Politics author Nicky Hager was unlawful.

The police were out of line, said the judge - and it wasn't just for going through his daughter's underwear drawer.

Hager was not a suspect in any crime, though he had written a book using material illegally hacked from the computer of blogger Cameron Slater. Hager had threatened the establishment by revealing, among other things, the leaking of confidential information for political gain by the prime minister's office. The police raid smacked of the establishment biting back.

So good on Judge Clifford for defending a journalist's right to protect his sources - a right that allows the media to do the important job of keeping a check on the powers-that-be who would rather the citizens of New Zealand knew as little as possible about some of their activities. It is particularly apt at this time of year when Christians around the world celebrate the birth of one of Hager's predecessors as a challenger of the establishment, a man who threw the money-lenders out of the temple, railed against established religious power and stood up to the occupying Roman authorities.