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Groper
9 October, 2007  
Postings from Perth

The boy editor of The Worst must be disappointed he was not found guilty of contempt – while the Rooster would be absolutely livid … Alan Camp’s appeal from unprofessional conduct findings strike drafting dramas … A sporty new judge for the Federal Court


imageSpring has sprung in the West. Blue skies stretch from the Indian Ocean to the Darling Escarpment. Kings Park is ablaze with Kangaroo Paws, Banksia flowers and Bottlebrush. The little sandgropers have reached the end of their burrowing season and so too has the Groper emerged from his burrow.

It’s hard not to smile as you wander down St George’s Terrace at this time of year, as the sunshine warms one’s face and the wind plays with the skirts of the legal secretaries on their lunch breaks.

It must be especially hard for Paul Armstrong, editor of The Worst Australian, not to smile, given that the Court of Appeal has just proved Groper right and comprehensively dismissed the contempt charges brought against him and his employer.

The nub of the action was the publication of a letter in the paper in the final days of a trial for unlawful killing which, while not mentioning the specifics of the case, complained that the victim had been referred to in court as “the body”.

imageNot one to gloat, Armstrong (pic) exercised editorial tact and modesty by limiting coverage of the acquittal to pages one, six and 20 of The Worst with a few selected quotes from himself.

Of course, the editor didn’t neglect the opportunity to give Robert “Rooster” Cock QC DPP yet another flogging, opening the online coverage with the news that the charges were “thrown out of court, because the state’s top prosecutor made a basic mistake [by failing] to provide transcripts of the aborted trial to prove the victim had been called ‘the body’.”

While certainly that was a fundamental flaw in the prosecution case, it’s a touch rough on the Rooster to allocate all the blame to him. It’s tantamount to saying: “We’s really guilty, but we’s got orf ‘cause he stuffed up”.

imageIn reality, only Wayne Martin CJ flicked the case on this ground alone. Christine Wheeler JA was prepared to assume the point in favour of the prosecution but then acquitted on the basis that publication of the letter did not cause prejudice.

Geoff Miller JA (pic) considered there was sufficient evidence to link the letter to the aborted trial but also didn’t think that a juror would have been affected.

The bottom line, as Groper said at the time, was that the trial judge was too quick to discharge the jury.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Rooster was too affronted to see that point, and to see that the contempt charge had no prospect of success.

In hindsight, I’m sure Cock wishes he’d stuck to the old adage that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and prove it.

Armstrong now has a licence to hunt – and it’s fowl season.

Geoffrey Miller did not, however, let The Worst off without a warning:

“It does need to be said, however, that it was unwise for the second contemnor to publish the letter in question on the morning of one of the final days of the trial of Mr Becker. Clearly, the second contemnor knew that the letter related to the trial of Mr Becker and knew that it was a trial in progress. The request of the staff member that the reference to the deceased’s name be deleted establishes that fact.

The letter identified the trial of Mr Becker despite the fact that his name was not used. The identifying detail in the letter was sufficient to make it clear that it was his trial. Newspapers must appreciate that mere deletion of the name of the accused from a letter of this type is insufficient…

In this case, the publication did not constitute a contempt of court, but it should be made clear that it is highly undesirable for a newspaper to publish during the course of a criminal trial letters to the editor which contain material relating to that trial.”

Sounds just like one of those classic 1970s cop shows: “Just you watch yourself sonny. I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”

* * *

In the “civil” jurisdiction, Perth’s mega-rich women continue to keep the courts busy.

While the battle rages between Angela Bennett and Gina Rinehart over the carve-up of their fathers’ iron ore tenements (with now seven interlocutory judgments having been delivered), perhaps the more salacious side-show is that concerning Hancock Prospecting’s former lawyer, Alan James Camp.

Camp was employed by Hancock Prospecting or Gina Rinehart from about the time of old Lang’s sign-off in 1992.

imageReaders of magazines found in supermarket checkouts and doctors’ waiting rooms (or The Worst) will be well acquainted with the subsequent cat fight between Lang’s daughter Gina Rinehart and his widow Rose Porteous (pic).

Ultimately, that led to a coronial inquest into Rinehart’s allegations that Porteous had hastened the gnarled old geezer’s demise.

In the midst of that spat, Camp was engaged by Gina Reinhart to speak to the meeja while Peter Hayes QC (RIP) did the court work.

However, in addition to his “authorised” work, Camp is alleged to have done at least two things, for which he was subsequently found guilty of unprofessional conduct.

First, he offered to disclose to the media, for a fee, confidential information regarding Lang, Gina and Hancock Prospecting (including the content of Lang’s will which Camp allegedly peeked at after breaking into Lang’s desk.

Secondly, he distributed to journalists a chronology containing allegations of serious misconduct by Rose Porteous prior to Lang’s demise, such as would potentially have caused her to lose her entitlement under the will.

Camp is seeking to appeal from those findings. However, it seems that he and those representing him have been testing the patience of her Honour Lindy Jenkins.

In dealing with Camp’s application for leave to appeal recently, Lindy’s frustration clearly leaked out into the judgment:

“The applicant has had a number of attempts at drafting proposed grounds of appeal. I do not intend to waste my time detailing them all, suffice to say that the first attempts were woeful. Their deficiencies and the adjournments I have granted to enable the applicant to rectify those deficiencies have been the cause of the delay in hearing this application.

Most recently the applicant filed submissions dated 21 July, which seek to amend the last filed set of proposed grounds dated 25 May 2007. Again, this is unsatisfactory, given that the respondent made oral submissions in May in respect to the grounds as they then stood. At the hearing on 31 July 2007 the applicant handed up an ‘Amended Minute of Proposed Substituted Appeal Grounds’ which contains amendments to the proposed grounds that were notified in the submissions filed on 21 July… I note that even these grounds are overly complex and confusing.”

Nevertheless, her Honour did manage to find a couple of the grounds were at least sufficiently arguable to grant leave to appeal. The ball rolls on.

* * *

Fabulous Phil Ruddock finally got around to appointing a replacement Federal Court Judge for the West.

Admitted for 32 years and at the bar for the last 17 of those, Neil McKerracher has managed to practice law in between his duties as a sports administrator.

He was chairman of the WA Institute of Sport from 1996 to 2003 and was praised on his resignation from that slot by no less than the Premier of Western Australia, who said of him, “Mr McKerracher has an esteemed reputation from both his professional career as a Queen’s Counsel and his involvement with sport”.

On the other hand, at least one lawyer, on hearing of his Honour’s elevation to the Federal Court bench, was heard to say, “God help us!”

What could he mean?