Friday, April 15, 2011

Judicial Ethics

@LanguageLog defends a Canadian judge against a charge of plagiarism (Is "plagiarism" in a judicial decision wrong?)

The Court of Appeal for British Columbia has recently overturned a decision by Justice Joel Groves on the unusual grounds that the judge's written decision was largely copied from the submission of the plaintiffs, thus creating the unfortunate impression that the judge had been insufficiently diligent in considering both sides of the case.

The written record of a judge's decision serves several purposes. It provides an explanation to the losing side, as well as being a document that can be used by lawyers to predict the outcome of similar cases in future. Above all, it provides evidence that justice has been done.

In the event of a decision being inadequately documented, we might imagine that the proper course of action would be to invite the judge to expand and clarify his decision, and to address any points that he had failed to cover. Obviously this revised document might still be subject to the normal appeal process.

Instead of adopting this course of action, the Court of Appeal (by a majority of two to one) has demanded an entirely new trial. Presumably the appeal judges deem this to be the best way of achieving the purposes stated above. A new trial will be costly and troublesome for both the plaintiffs and defendents, but it will put more money into the pockets of the lawyers. Cui Bono?

Cojocaru (Guardian Ad Litem) v. British Columbia Women’s Hospital and Health Center, 2011 BCCA 192

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