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Opinions of Friday, 26 August 2016

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Justice: The Judge and his breakfast

Jomo, today I fancy a rant about judges and the administration of justice. We tend to presume that the law is so technically cut out as to make the administration of justice fool proof against subjectivity and error.

Jack Amadu commits a crime. Jack Amadu is apprehended by the police and arraigned before Justice Kwaboni’s court. Justice Kwaboni after listening to all the evidence, dispatches Jack Amadu to the cooler, or orders him to take a walk to the gallows. {Never mind that in our jurisdiction, capital punishment is dead and buried somewhere in the statutes.}

In reality, Jomo, a judge’s ruling and by logical extension of the argument, the administration of justice, could be influenced by anything from what a judge ate for breakfast and the mood of his missus when he left home for his court.

If he ate something that made him suffer an indigestion that caused him great discomfort while he sat on a case, or his missus gave him a severe dressing down or chewed him out before he left home, you don’t want to be in the dock facing him!

The little-known legal realism movement holds the view that “the law, being a human concoction, is subject to the same foibles, biases and imperfections that affect everything humans do” and that the popular assumption that the rulings judges make are always based on rational decisions and written laws, is somehow flawed.

A study conducted by Ben Gurion University selected eight judges for a study on the subject. The judges had been on the bench for an average period of 22 years.

Every day, each of the judges heard between 14 and 35 cases of prisoners seeking parole {a release from prison earlier than the scheduled date of release, on condition that the released prisoner would behave well in society.} The daily hearings were broken into three sessions and the judges were made to take two breaks for food and refreshment.

The study found that the first three prisoners seen by each judge at the start of each “session”, were more likely to be paroled than the last three prisoners to be seen before the close of each day’s sessions.

A graph drawn from all the data obtained from the study showed that the chances of a prisoner being granted parole always started at about 65 per cent and diminished to zero over the next few hours.

After the judges returned from their food and refreshment breaks, the odds that prisoners would be granted parole, abruptly climbed back up to 65%, before resuming their downward slide all over again. A prisoner’s fate could therefore hinge precariously upon the point in the day when their case is heard.

Fortunately, even while the legal realism movement is still probing the subject farther, there already exist legal avenues for redress in cases of error in the administration of justice: An accused person or respondent in a case can always file an appeal at the Appeal Court.

If dissatisfied with an Appeal Court ruling, an accused or respondent may proceed to the Supreme Court. Now here is one of the most interesting aspect of the administration of justice: The almighty Supreme Court can overrule its own decision!