Those seem to be the words that got a Gisborne man jailed for 28 days. He shouted out the abuse as he was leaving Judge Tony Adeane’s court room after a friend’s hearing hadn’t gone well. The story from the Dominion Post says that the incident came “at the end of a week of ‘bad manners'” in Judge Adeane’s court.
When I first heard this as a brief headline on a radio news bulletin I thought it was absurd that someone had been jailed for 28-days for swearing at a judge, but didn’t think a whole lot more about it. Then it was mentioned on Twitter by @lawgeeknz and I replied saying I thought it was alarming that the judge was able to do so. From there there was a reasonably lengthy discussion with a few participants where it became apparent that I seemed to be the only person who held this view, which surprised me.
So why do I find it so wrong? Well in my first tweet about it I pointed out that no-one else would be able to do the same. Police, politicians, firefighters, ambulance officers, doctors, nurses, lawyers and many others are engaged in professions which deserve respect and are also often the target of verbal abuse. Not a single one of the could ever hope to jail someone for 28 days. At best a Police officer could probably arrest someone for disorderly behaviour or some other offense, but it’s very unlikely there’d be a charge or conviction, so at worst it would be a night in a holding cell.
That’s one aspect I find uncomfortable, but not the whole issue. There’s also one of consistency – the story suggests that the Judge had been having a pretty tough week in court with various bad behaviour and disruptions, but none of those events had resulted in jail time. There’s also nothing in the story to suggest the offender in this case had been disruptive in any other way during the proceedings, he’d simply shouted some abuse as he was leaving (the result of frustration and emotion I guess). It’s very unlikely he (or anyone) would have expected that the consequences might be 28 days in jail.
The final aspect is one of due process. No one else has the unilateral authority to jail someone who offends or abuses them without oversight. In this case it appears from the article that the judge had a rough week in court, was frustrated and decided to make an example of this person. If he’d ordered the person to appear before a different judge the next morning, instead of himself, then that aspect might not have bothered me as much.
A court is a place that requires good order, and judges certainly deserve respect (as do many others) but this case appears quite arbitrary. If it were widely understood that this sort of behavior would result in being jailed, and such penalties were regularly and consistently applied then this might be reasonable, but that’s not the case.
There’s also seemed to be a sense that, as a friend of a criminal, he was a bad person. I find it incredibly hard to imagine that the same outburst from a victim’s supporter in the event of an unhappy outcome would be treated the same – we’d understand and overlook their emotionally charged response.