Is Justice Blind?

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Justice is blind or so they say. It is supposed to pay “no heed to the social status or personal characteristics of the litigants”.

But this simply is not true.

Race, gender, religion, socio-economic background, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, education, family upbringing, all play a role in the way judges assess the cases before them. But to what extent should a judge’s personal identity and experience be brought to bear in administering justice?

In the decision R. v. Pelletier, 2016 ONCJ 628, judge Justice Nakatsuru explicitly acknowledges his own identity and the identity of the offender in assessing the case before him. In R. v. Pelletier, Ms. Pelletier was sentenced to jail for 3 years for two robberies, arson, and an assault. In addition to jail time, she was ordered to undergo supervision. While undergoing this supervision, she tested positively for cocaine. And in doing so, was in breach of a court order.

In determining her court sentence, Justice Nakatsuru wrote:

[7] You are an indigenous person… As you know, I myself was raised on the prairies. I know firsthand the discrimination suffered by indigenous peoples in that part of our country. It is something all right thinking people are ashamed of…

[20] In addition, the risk of re-offending in your case is not just connected to an untreated addiction. It is connected to the historical injustice done to indigenous people. It is connected to your own personal indigenous history. Connected to the abuse you suffered…

[25] I find that rehabilitation is an important principle in my sentence. I find that restraint in imposing jail is important. Obviously it is important for you Ms. Pelletier. But is also important to deal with the problem we have in this country of sending too many indigenous offenders to jail. The courts recognize that problem. I have to address it in my sentencing of you.

[30] After careful reflection, Ms. Pelletier, I am sending you home. I wish you all the best in your life.

[31] After taking into account time served, the sentence will be 1 day.

It is a well written decision. It acknowledges the background of Ms. Pelletier, and it acknowledges the background of the judge. But if theoretically justice is to be blind, then it begs the following questions. To what extent should a judge’s personal background play in deciding a case? To what extent should the personal background of the litigant play in deciding the case? To what extent should justice really be blind?

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