In the latest episode of “Magisterial Mayhem” (see Pat O’Shane July 2007), retired Northern Territory magistrate David Loadman (pic) has been given the rounds of the kitchen by the NT Supreme Court over a bit of a tantrum and dishing out unfair treatment to a couple of Mindil Beach stall-holders who came to his court unrepresented.
Lucinda Woodward and Vicki Braddy initiated proceedings in the Local Court complaining they had been wrongfully evicted as stall-holders by the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets Association.
Although their statement of claim was an amateur job, it was more or less clear what they were claiming: the association was violating it’s own rules, reinstatement of their right to trade pursuant to the Associations Act, and damages for loss of income.
In the words of Acting Supreme Court Justice Trevor Olsson, the two “could fairly have been bewildered at what then happened with somewhat remarkable speed”.
Loadman initially demanded to know why counsel for the defendants hadn’t applied to strike out the claim. Perhaps as bewildered as the plaintiffs, counsel began apologising. The magistrate barged on:
Loadman: “All right, it doesn’t matter. The second thing about this matter, apart from the fact that the claim is such that it ought not be allowed to stand, simplistically, alone – forget about anything else – the other rules of the Local Court which require you to answer the further and better particulars, which you haven’t given – I mean, you’ve just delivered an amorphous mass of nonsense which doesn’t answer the specific questions, it doesn’t comply with the rule and it’s in no way acceptable and simply dictates that, on that ground also, your claim ought be struck out.
“So in my perception, your claim ought to be struck out, firstly, because it doesn’t comply with rule 28.01, it does not disclose a cause of action, it’s scandalous, frivolous and vexatious and it’s an abuse of the process of court. But, in any event, in addition to that it also warrants being struck out because it fails – because you’ve failed to comply with your obligations in relation to supplying further and better particulars.
“This is a court of law, it’s not some sort of bar conversation piece and you have to comply with rules. You have to have a cause of action, it has to be properly framed and when you get a request for particulars you’re obliged to answer it in accordance with those legal rules which apply. Do you have anything to say in response to what I’ve said?
Woodward: “Only I can plead ignorance because we cant afford a solicitor to –
Loadman: “Well, that’s too bad. If you can’t get it right without a lawyer then there is no redress available to you unless you can persuade some lawyer to act for you pro bono, which means for nothing.
Woodward: “Sir, we will get a lawyer.”
Later Front-End Loader said:
“I dont give legal advice but I think you’d need Jesus Christ not a solicitor to formulate the cause of the action that you’ve brought.”
Woodward and Braddy got themselves a lawyer and appealed.
Olsson (pic) permitted an application for judicial review based on Loadman’s denial of natural justice – specifically procedural fairness. The appellants also sought orders quashing the decision and returning the proceedings to a different magistrate.
According to the Local Court Act an appeal could only be made from a “final order” of a magistrate. After mulling at length what “final order” really meant, Olsson reluctantly found that Loadman had not really made a “final order”, because he hadn’t addressed any of the legal issues between the parties.
Instead, Olsson found in favour of the appellants on the judicial review claim. He said:
“The learned magistrate effectively denied the appellants any opportunity to address him as to the course that he proposed to adopt, inappropriately ignored an application for an adjournment to seek legal advice and put their pleadings and particulars in order, failed to render them the assistance as self-represented litigants that they were entitled to receive, had plainly prejudged the matter before either party had been given any opportunity to address him at all and then proceeded to deal with the substance of the matter without affording them any such opportunity.
“To compound those problems his prejudgment was patently wrong… In those circumstances it would be an affront to any reasonable notion of justice and contrary to the public interest to decline to grant the appellants to relief that they seek by way of judicial review.”
The South African-born Loadman certainly isn’t a man without principles. He made headlines in 2001 for refusing to apply the NT government’s mandatory sentencing law as soon as the Labor Government came to power with a promise to repeal it.
The Northern Territory News deputy editor Mark Wilton told the ABC that the media always found court reporting “entertaining” when Loadman was on the bench.
When gangs were rioting in the Wadeye community in 2002, Loaders let some of his charm bubble to the surface with the comment, “give them machine guns and let them finish it”.
Journalist Paul Toohey was charged with trespass when he went to Wadeye. Front-End Loader found the charge proved but didn’t record a conviction, citing his memories of oppression in apartheid South Africa.
In that case too he was overturned on appeal.