By now we should all be aware of the influence and power of the internet. It has allowed the world into our homes, workplaces, and lives, in an intimate way.
It can facilitate relationships; be a powerful tool for popular causes; assist the democratic process; and it can be a vital tool for rapid acquisition of information – a boon for bloggers like me. On occassion it has allowed us to “meld” into a single, focused ‘mind’, to exert a coherent action to affect the physical world.
It also has it’s much darker side. The internet can reflect the most base of human emotions; hatred, anger, paranoia, fanaticism, xenophobia, a thirst for revenge, and other irrationalities.
Those who maintain that the internet is somehow less “real” than the physical world underestimate it’s influence in our lives.
I foresee the growth of a potential great evil, which will place incredible pressures on our judicial system and perhaps even undermine it.
We have already witnessed individuals using the net to circumvent name suppression, or to foment mass-hysteria targetting prominent individuals.
Soon after David Bain was found not guilty on five counts of murder in June 2009, at least one website sprang up vociferously maintaining his guilt, and several on-line fora were filled with strident commentary expressing all manner of irrational accusations.
It has been suggested that the concerted force of this stridency had a degree of influence on Judith Collins throwing out Justice Binnie’s report and recommendations for compensation.
There was the case of far right-wing blogger, Cameron Slater, who in September 2010, wilfully broke name suppression of convicted New Zealanders, and in the process identified the victim of a sex-abuse case. He justified his actions as being some kind of (mis-guided) campaign against name suppression. (See: Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater guilty)
And recently there was the chap who published the names and images of those alleged to have attacked cricketer, Jesse Ryder.
Jordan Mason felt he could take it upon himself to “name and shame” the two men charged with assaulting Jesse Ryder – even though the pair have not yet been tried or convicted. (see: Jesse Ryder attack: Accused felt he had to ‘name and shame’ men)
Garth McVicar’s latest proposal is another step further along the road toward a dystopian near-future. One where Cyber Mob ‘Justice’ holds undue influence on our judicial system,
Acknowledgement: Radio NZ: Trust to launch website to ‘name and shame’ judges
Garth McVicar’s populist vigilantee organisation, the so-called “Sensible Sentencing Trust” is planning a website that has one core function; to be an instrument of punitive reaction against judges who do not measure up to the Trust’s vision of retributive ‘justice’.
This “Naming & Shaming” has one agenda only – to encourage and foment an influence on our judiciary that is separate from the law, and puts power into the hands of a small clique (McVicar and his cronies). It would exploit the lowest common denominator in our society – ignorance, fear, hatred, and a hunger for violent revenge – and exploit Mob Mentality to achieve it’s ends.
Who amongst us is not disgusted by the vileness of certain criminals and their horrific misdeeds. Our primal urge is to exact a fitting revenge – usually involving copious amounts of pain, and a much-shortened life-span. It’s an urge that lurks in the deepest recesses of our reptilian brains.
As a consequence of the socialising aspects of civilisation, we’ve left those urges (mostly) behind us. Though it can be useful when governments plan resource-wars against other nations.
The ‘net – as we also know – allows that veneer of civilisation to be stripped away and our primal instincts for punitive revenge to surface and expressed in emotive terms. The cloak of anonymity can embolden the meekest.
Have a look at the political messageboard forum on TradeMe, and you’ll understand what I mean.
McVicar’s group understand the power of the ‘net to further their agenda for a more punitive society – and they are going hard out to achieve it.
On this issue, I stand with Justice Minister Judith Collins and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson; who oppose this ill-disguised step toward mob-“justice”.
Little wonder that the New Zealand Bar Association condemned this lunatic idea,
We join with the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General in condemning this proposal. The Bar Association regards the step as being ill-considered, totally unnecessary and likely to give rise to illegality as contempt of court.
What is being proposed amounts to little more than on-line talk back radio – likely to attract debate and comment of similar quality but with the added disadvantage (or advantage, depending upon one’s perspective) of being permanently available and accessible in the blogosphere.
Judges have an extremely difficult job. They are constantly required to make hard decisions under the mounting pressure of increasing case loads, exacerbated by diminishing resources. Their decisions are rightly the subject of appeal processes which are open and transparent. The daily work of a Judge in court is done publicly and is scrutinised by the news media. If the conduct of a judge is questioned, that conduct can be the subject of complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner.
Acknowledgement: Scoop – NZBA President on Sensible Sentencing Trust Website Proposal
The author of this statement, Stephen Mills QC, added – and I emphasise the point,
In our society the freedom to criticise is a valued and protected right, but as with most rights there is concomitant responsibility. The responsibility here is that criticism of the judicial arm of our democracy must be responsible, accurate and measured. These characteristics are frequently absent on talk back radio and they are unlikely to be a feature of the invited public comment on this website, given its stated objective.
Making critical comments via email to a website affords the critic a degree of anonymity that is likely to encourage a lack of responsibility in what is said. This is likely to improperly and unfairly undermine public confidence in the administration of justice.
Understandably, the Bar Association has labelled McVicar’s dangerous idea as “irresponsible” – because that it precisely what it is. The gradual under-mining of the judiciary would become the inevitable reality. Ultimately, no one could possibly benefit from this.
It is worthwhile to consider that there are sufficient numbers of disturbed individuals who could take the existence of such a website as a license for vigilanteeism. Even those with less nefarious intentions, acting with collective thought and “righteous” belief, could place pressure on individual judges who would have little means to resist.
Remember the fuss made over the proposed “Wellywood” sign on Wellington’s hills? This was the online response,
Which lead to physical-world protest action,
Acknowledgement: Otago Daily Times – Poll shows majority opposed to Wellywood sign
Now extrapolate into others areas of human activity.
Law enforcement and members of the judiciary are vulnerable. As happened recently in the United States (though no evidence yet exists of internet-vigilanteeism being a factor),
Acknowledgement: BBC – Texas district attorney third law official killed in weeks
On 18 April, on Radio NZ’s Nine To Noon programme, Kathryn Ryan interviewed “Sensible Sentencing Trust” spokesperson, Garth McVicar. He told Kathryn,
“… So ultimately the way it’ll work is some of the judges that are brought to our attention, and we do our due diligence and think, you know, by our research that we believe they are consistently getting it consistently getting it wrong, they will be named on that site, as will some of the previous history and some of the decisions they’ve made that we believe earn them the right to be on the site.”
Acknowledgement: Nine to Noon – “Judge the Judges” website to be launched
In other words – we have the potential for a witch-hunt for judges who, by McVicar’s “research that we believe they are consistently getting it consistently getting it wrong, [and] they will be named on that site “.
Some obvious questions are,
- Who decides the criteria of McVicar’s stated “due diligence“?
- Who will be tasked with bringing “judges… to our attention“?
- Who decides what constitutes “consistently getting it wrong”?
- Who decides what aspects of “previous history” will “ earn them the right to be on the site“?
- What right of appeal or response will judges be given? The right of appeal is the most basic of rights for a person accused of a “mis-deed”?
- How will the information be presented?
- How will judges be identified?
- Who will be accountable if information is incorrect, or presented out of context?
This Web Vigilanteeism is an unpredented and dangerous road that McVicar and his mates are taking.
Later that same day, on Radio NZ’s Jim Mora’s panel-programme, to a question from the Host as to how such a website could be moderated, Garth McVicar was at pains to reassure listeners,
“… I’m not sure if many of your listeners know Ruth Money but she’s no fool. And some of the people that are behind her and putting this together are no fools. So it will be well monitored. It won’t become a rant, for, you know, a rave site for people to rave on like some of the other sites I believe are. I don’t bother even looking into them. This is going to maintain the credibility of the organisation… “
Sorry – no. That’s not reassuring at all. McVicar cannot control the end-use of any information that his group publishes on the web. Ruth Money (a SST administrator/spokesperson) may be “no fool” – but who knows about the state of mind of people rreading it?
And if a judge comes to harm – can the SST be held to account?
After all, they are demanding that judges be held to account.
Earlier in this piece, I wrote of the “growth of a potential great evil”.
My fear is that taken to it’s end-conclusion, ‘net-based “Justice” could begin to influence the judicial process more and more. The day when citizens go on-line to ‘vote’ on the Guilt or Innocence of a person charged with a crime is a far-fetched fantasy.
I would like to keep it that way.
Otago Daily Times – Poll shows majority opposed to Wellywood sign (24 May 2011)
BBC – Texas district attorney third law official killed in weeks (1 April 2013)
Scoop – NZBA President on Sensible Sentencing Trust Website Proposal (18 April 2013)
Radio NZ – Trust to launch website to ‘name and shame’ judges (18 April 2013)
Radio NZ – Nine to Noon – “Judge the Judges” website to be launched (18 April 2013, audio)
Radio NZ – The Panel with Irene Gardiner and Michael Deaker (Part 1) (18 April 2013, audio)
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