The Guardian November 15, 2000

Gagging judicial dissent in NT

Alice Springs-based community group, Central Australian Youth Justice 
(CAYJ) has deplored the call by the Northern Territory Chief Minister Denis 
Burke for members of the NT judiciary who disagree with mandatory 
sentencing to resign.

CAYJ spokesperson Teresa O'Sullivan pointed out that Mr Burke is not just 
the Chief Minister. He is also the Attorney-General, technically the first 
law officer of the Territory.

It is traditionally the role of the Attorney to defend the judiciary from 
attack, Ms O'Sullivan noted, and it was extraordinary and completely 
unacceptable that he instead takes every opportunity to attack its members.

"Almost every judge and magistrate in the NT has criticised these laws from 
the bench. Mr Burke says this compromises the independence of the 
judiciary, presumably on the basis that judges should keep out of 
politics", said Ms O'Sullivan.

"But Mr Burke should realise that mandatory sentencing laws put judges and 
magistrates in an impossible position, by preventing them from discharging 
their duty to be consistent in sentencing offenders."

Ms O'Sullivan said it was entirely appropriate and responsible for them to 
draw attention to this legal issue by commenting on it, as indeed they do 
in relation to many legal issues which arise in the course of their 
deliberations. That is, after all, their job.

"Mr Burke's standover tactics are an affront to the Territory's 
constitutional structure, and an insult to our judiciary, who must be 
permitted to apply the law in an environment free of political intimidation 
and interference."

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