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Equal Justice Bench Book
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Equal Justice

1. Equal Justice

Lady Justice

All judicial officers take an oath to administer the law without fear, favour, affection or ill will.

Judicial officers must treat all parties fairly regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, age, religious affiliation, socio-economic background, size or nature of family, literacy level or any other such characteristic. Respect and courtesy should be the hallmarks of judicial conduct. Paternalistic or patronising attitudes have no place in the courtroom.

In his Foreword to the New South Wales Judicial Commission’s Equality before the Law Bench Book, the model and source for much of the material in this Bench Book, the Honourable JJ Spigelman AC, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, noted Anatole France’s reference to the “majestic equality” of the law which forbade the rich, as well as the poor, to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread. Chief Justice Spigelman continued:

Over recent decades, legal systems throughout the world have come to recognise that both access to, and the delivery of, justice requires understanding of and sensitivity to the special requirements and disabilities of particular sections of the community. FootnoteJudicial Commission of New South Wales, Equality before the Law Bench Book (2006, as revised July 2016) Foreword (accessed 20 July 2017).

The former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Hon Robert French AC, described the representation of the idea of equality before the law, in its formal sense, as being blind to difference including cultural attributes not expressly or impliedly accommodated by the law. FootnoteChief Justice Robert French AC, “Equal Justice and Cultural Diversity - The General Meets the Particular” (Cultural Diversity and the Law Conference, 14 March 2015, Sydney) (accessed 20 July 2015). He noted that such formal equality is not a guarantee of equal justice and can indeed itself have adverse discriminatory outcomes depending on the different circumstances and attributes of those to whom it applies. He regarded bench books such as this one as embodying an attempt to attain “‘equal justice’ [which] may be seen as a more demanding standard than that of formal ‘equality before the law’”. FootnoteChief Justice Robert French AC, “Equal Justice and Cultural Diversity - The General Meets the Particular” (Cultural Diversity and the Law Conference, 14 March 2015, Sydney) 6 (accessed 20 July 2015).


Last updated: 1-Sep-2017

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