Imagine, if you will, that your state government were to announce a headline-worthy judicial appointment, the news hook being that the individual about to be elevated to the bench is, say, a devout and devoted Catholic — perhaps an advocate of the Tridentine rite, certainly an admirer of Cardinal Pell and, going by his or her speaking engagements, memberships and activism, a person it might be assumed is an ardent advocate his faith.
Now, lead the imagination to the dock and picture yourself as, say, a flamboyant homosexual appearing before that same magistrate to answer charges of public disorder, perhaps committed while dressed Mardi Gras-style as a very naughty nun.
So, having been found guilty, do you lodge an appeal on the grounds that a magistrate who wears faith on a sleeve might be overly influenced by moral preconceptions and the boundaries of a favoured theology, especially in regard to gay revelers and the advocacy of their parading? If the magistrate in question were also to sport the scapula, wearing it not inside his shirt but prominently and proudly displayed atop his tie for all to see, any guilty verdict and sentence might well be interpreted by some, fairly or otherwise, as at least something of manifestation of personal belief, rather than of the law impartially applied. Such a conclusion might not be true, probably wouldn’t be true, but there would be doubts and gripes aplenty, make no mistake about it.
Of course activist Catholics are not appointed to the bench, but if one were we can be confident the announcement would make no mention of religion.
How very different and difficult must it be for adherents of another religion, as a press release from the office of Victoria’s premier confirms:
Ms [Urfa] Masood is the first Muslim woman appointed to a Victorian Court, and is of Sri Lankan background.
It would nice to provide Ms Masood’s (above) description of her own career and interests but, while her LinkedIn profile still turns up in Google search results, the entry itself appears to have gone missing. Also diminished, thanks to the premier’s emphasis on broadcasting Ms Masood’s religion, might well be the warranted impression that she has risen purely on the strength of achievement, for in this regard she ticks every box a Labor government might favour. Appearing with Bob Brown to denounce the Howard government’s 2005 anti-terror measures will have done her reputation no harm, nor the report, for which her input and assistance received specific thanks, detailing abuses, attacks and indignities to which Muslim women were said to be prone after the 9/11 massacres.
None should doubt that Ms Masood’s appointment owes everything to her legal acumen and professional competence– a fact reinforced by her rise in just 12 years from legal novice to magistrate. But thanks to Premier Daniel Andrews’ emphasis on culture and ethnicity that appreciation will be somewhat more difficult for some to grasp than should be the case. If only he had omitted reference to her faith, as does the Victorian Bar Association’s thumbnail biography available via the link below, any perception of tokenism might have been entirely avoided.