Slow judgements vs correct judgements – lessons from Australia

19 July 2019

High Court of Australia Judge, Justice Stephen Gageler, will address recent criticism of court judgment delays in Australia, at the University of Canterbury (UC) on 23 July at 6.15pm.

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    As the 2019 Sir Eric Hotung Visiting Fellow, Justice Gageler will deliver a public lecture titled, The Quantity and the Quality of Justice: Constructivist and Ecological Rationality in a Common Law System.

As the 2019 Sir Eric Hotung Visiting Fellow, Justice Gageler will deliver a public lecture titled, The Quantity and the Quality of Justice: Constructivist and Ecological Rationality in a Common Law System. The lecture is intended for a public audience as well as judges, legal practitioners and legal academics.

“The delay in the production of judgments by judges was the subject of criticism by a recently retired judge of the High Court who criticised the Federal Court of Australia, and implicitly many of the courts of Australia, for being slow in producing judgments,” Justice Gageler says. The issue has been intensely debated in the Australian media.

“Judges swear an oath that they will do right according to law; that is, not just produce an outcome that is fair and adequate, but one that is legally correct.

“The difficulty with being legally correct is that it takes a long time. You have to think carefully and slowly through the problem. So the basic thesis is that there is an inherent tension between the sworn goal of getting to correct answers and achieving that result quickly - and you can’t really do both.”

 It’s a problem that exists in every common law system, including New Zealand, he says.

UC’s law students benefit from hearing from specialists who visit the campus to share their expertise and experience. Previous Hotung Visiting Fellows have included Judges of the highest courts of the United Kingdom and the United States of America (the House of Lords and the American Supreme Court). 

Asked what qualities a law graduate needs, Justice Gageler emphasises the importance of developing resilience. “In law, you’re faced with difficult human situations. Usually there is a deep conflict that underlies any case, criminal or civil, and sometimes it can be emotionally draining just dealing with the subject matter.”

The way to develop resilience, he believes, is through experiencing failure and overcoming adversity.

 The Hotung Public Lecture is on Tuesday 23 July, 6:15pm to 7:15pm at Laws 108, Meremere, University Drive, Ilam. Attendance is free, but bookings are essential.

Justice Gageler:

Justice Gageler was Solicitor-General of Australia when he was appointed to the High Court of Australia in October 2012. Before his appointment as Solicitor-General in 2008, he practised as Senior Counsel at the private bar principally in constitutional law, administrative law and commercial law. He was admitted as a barrister of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in 1989 and was appointed Senior Counsel in 2000. He graduated in law from the Australian National University and has post-graduate qualifications from Harvard University.

Hotung Visiting Fellowship:

The Hotung Visiting Fellowship is administered by the Faculty of Law at the University of Canterbury for the purpose of hosting distinguished judges and legal research academics.

The Sir Eric Hotung Visiting Fellowship is made possible by the generous endowment of international philanthropist, the late Sir Eric Hotung CBE. The Fellowship sponsors the visit of distinguished judges and legal scholars, promotes the publication of significant research, and enhances the research profile of the Canterbury Law School. Previous Sir Eric Hotung Visiting Fellows include former American Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, United Kingdom Supreme Court Judge Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, Australian Human Rights Commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs and Professor Robert Merkin QC from the University of Exeter.

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