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31 October, 2007  
Goings on ...

Advertising for judges versus the dignity of the bench … Magistrates’ “status” on the up-and-up … Federal Court’s Melbourne marketing blitz … Privilege tussle over Sydney bar’s Stephen Archer documents … Grief sweeps VicBar over Faris’ resignation

imageOutbursts of hurrumphing have greeted the NSW government’s newspaper advertisements seeking new District Court judges.

Some current judges are livid. They are distressed that the advertisements somehow undermine the sanctity of their status.

Another appalling thought is that magistrates might apply and this would lower the tone of the Dizzo even further.

They must have forgotten that Derek Price, the former chief magistrate, is now on the Supreme Court, and that two former beaks, Jon Williams and Deborah Sweeney, sit quite splendidly on the Dizzo.

It was Pricey who negotiated with the former Attorney General Bob Debus, now running for the ALP in the federal seat of Macquarie, that the honorific for magistrates be changed from Your Worship to Your Honour.

“The next thing is they’ll be wanting is robes,” distraught Dizzies wailed at the time.

imageUncle Bob Debus didn’t tell them that he’d already agreed in principle with Pricey that the beaks should be allowed to fling on some motley – in the interests of “security and dignity”.

Now, the Judicial Conference of Australia has agreed that all judicial officers should be called “judge”.

Some of the AGs are concerned about the implications for the cost of judicial pensions and behind the scenes Supreme and Dizzo judges are trying to strangle this incredibly vulgar idea.

They are mightily miffed at the notion that the splendor of the judiciary can be made even more radiant by elevating the prestige of those on the lowest rung of the stare decisis food chain from magistrate to judge.

* * *

Another of my field agents asks why couldn’t the NSW Attorney General John Hatzistergos simply have appointed a firm of headhunters to suss out appropriate types for the District Court?

The advertisement seeking expressions of interest gives precious little information – only that the pay is $276,300 a year plus “conveyance allowance” of $19,800; that applicants must have at least seven years standing; and be conversant with the law and procedures applied by the District Court.

But what of the Bar n’ Grill’s self-basting silk system? Isn’t that meant to provide a glistening pool of readily discernible talent available for service on the bench?

These advertisements for new judges surely will ruin the thrill of the inscrutable system of nods and winks.

* * *

Three new appointments to the brand new military court were formalised this month and what with all the election excitement the event passed largely unheralded.

imageThe Federal Court’s Field Marshall Justice Dick Tracey, the Judge Advocate General ADF, was in attendance as Brigadier Ian Westwood, Colonel Peter Morrison and Lt Col Jennifer Woodward were sworn in as permanent military judges.

Jennifer Woodward (pic) was the Defence Department’s director of advisings and before that was at the ACT DPP where, among other things, she worked on the Winchester murder case. Justinian remains convinced that David Eastman (looney and all that he is) was wrongly banged-up for the murder of the assistant AFP commissioner.

Somehow or other news of Woodward’s appointment to the military court had spread around Defence weeks before the GG scratched his signature on the instrument. Even people at the ACT DPP knew in advance.

Further, there have been mumblings that silks from the reserves were making overtures to Canberra that others might have been even more suitable for this position on the new court.

As if life’s not hard enough, when most hairdos are pressed flat against the glass ceiling, without someone suggesting that the woman who got the gig is not as good as women who didn’t, let along inferior to other people with penises.

* * *

Is there a shortage of work at at the Melbourne registry of the Federal Court? What else explains the court spruiking of its Fast Track List around city law shops?

imageThe rocket docket idea is supposed to cut pleadings and preliminary skirmishing over discovery to the bone, reduce costs and increase speed.

It has been enthusiastically sponsored by Ray Finkelstein (pic) and is seen as an effort by the Feds to steal some trade from under the noses of the Supremes.

Maybe the extraordinary growth under (Fabulous) Phil Ruddock of the Federal Magistrates’ Court could, to some extent, explain the slow volume of business in the southern registry.

There are now an incredible 56 federal magistrates and certainly they have made inroads into the work of the Family Court where judges increasingly find themselves twiddling their thumbs.

There appears to be a similar impact on the Federal Court and so it’s little surprise that some of the judges have had to double as a crack sales team.

None of which has stopped some on the Federal Court loudly grizzling about colleagues who don’t work hard enough. I wonder who they could be?

* * *

The NSW Bar n’ Grill tireless attempts to remove barrister Stephen Archer from the jam roll grinds on remorselessly, if not very effectively.

The latest step has been a decision from the Administrative Decisions Tribunal on Archer’s demands for access to the Grill’s correspondence, internal files and minutes of meetings relating to his case.

The council of the association questioned the relevance of some documents Archer wants produced, such as it’s correspondence with the Barristers Board of Western Australia.

Further the bar argued that under the Legal Profession Act, it did not have to produce certain documents relating to disciplinary investigations, and that others were protected by “client” legal privilege.

Archer has taken the fight to the NSW Bar Association on every legal point, as this 35-page decision attests.

Archer was two-thirds successful. The ADT ordered the association to produce all the correspondence between it and the WA Barristers Board, and all minutes of its various meetings which contain any reference to Archer.

Archer was, however, knocked back on his claim for access to all correspondence about him between the bar and the Australian Taxation Office.

Although refused on this occasion, the door was also left open for Archer to get an officer of the Bar n’ Grill before the tribunal to be examined – but only if the Grill doesn’t sufficiently comply with the orders to produce.

Sounds like the old tax malingerer is having an absolute ball.

* * *

imageVicBar staggers from crisis to crisis. As if the Riordan agitation was not awful enough, now there is the unbearable news that famed bloviator Peter Faris (pic) has resigned his membership.

He’s upset that the ethics committee has asked him to defend his remarks in May, following the death of Peter Hayes, that drug use at the bar was rife and that the bar council was in a state of denial about it.

Faris says that not only is he a barrister but he is a “journalist and media commentator” and he has a right to free speech.

Of course, of course.

Actually, he’s not a journalist, he’s a pontificator. If he were a journalist he would be expected to justify his assertions with facts or provide a factual underpinning for any comments he wanted to make.

On the ABC’s World Today of May 22, Faris was asked:

“When you say you’ve got evidence coming to you. Have you had people come to you in the past week, since you made these initial claims, with more information?

Faris: Yes, a lot. I’ve had a lot of phone calls, a couple of meetings and a lot of emails, yes. And, and apart from a couple of abusive emails, people supported what I was doing and a number of people said I was right.

Journalist: Would you say, then, would you stick to your claim that there is a major drug problem among some senior barristers in Melbourne?

Faris: I think there’s a serious problem, yes.

As we pointed out at the time none of the helpful spriukers for a cleaner bar (Faris, Isaac Brott, Ysaiah Ross, Chris Merritt) came up with anything new.

They managed to point to three names: Andrew Fraser, David Quick and Peter Hayes. This was the sum total of drug related cases affecting the bar in the past six years. Actually Fraser was a solicitor and Quick was from Adelaide.

Faris now intends to ply his trade with a Law Institute ticket. It’s not the first time he’s quit the bar – previously he left over the issue of having to have bar council approved chambers.

None of which is to say that VicBar is not being a tiny bit precious about “bringing the profession into disrepute”.

It’s just depressing that we won’t be spared Faris’ ego-driven sanctimonious outpourings.


Reader Comments

Posted by: Anonymous
Date: November 1, 2007, 11:11 pm

Re the Military Court, you start strongly but fade in the straight. You're on the money with the news of Woodward's appointment being common knowledge before the GG attached his moniker. Indeed, there's Kevin Rudd winning odds that the origin of such rumours was the good lady herself. And you're also on the money in noting the mumblings from not only silks from the reserves, but also her sisters and brothers from both the permanent and reserve legal ranks and the local profession generally, that others who actually have a track record in spruiking, might have been even more suitable for this position on the new court. Where you falter is that you don't then join the dots in assessing Ms W's suitability in the face of others more qualified - something that would have been blindly apparent if those charged with making the recommendation had consulted with the local profession beforehand.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: November 4, 2007, 6:33 pm

Bizarrely, it's Issac Brott, not Isaac. His firm's website promises "A flexible, approach to law".