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Polly Peck
3 September, 2008  
Capital Offences

Canberra hackette Polly Peck was on hand for the swearing-in of Justice Robert French as the High Court’s new CJ. She was shocked by the lack of a uniform ceremonial policy on wigs

imageThe great, the good and the not so good came to the High Court on Wattle Day (Sept. 1) to pay homage to the new tribal chief.

The air was filled with the noise of the Gang Gangs and lavish words. The morning tea was like a Country Women’s Association wet dream. (See JustinianTV’s coverage.)

When French handed Vladimir Gummov his commission from the governor general appointing him CJ, the senior puisne judge examined it closely, as though it was probably a forgery.

After what seemed an unseemly long inspection of the document the old Russian gave up in the full glare of the assembled tribal elders and asked the principal registrar to read it out aloud.

It was a funny sort of day. Dress codes varied. Some (such as Mr Solicitor Sexton from NSW) decided it was to be a full-bottomed sort of moment. Others (such as Ross Ray from the Law Council) thought it was a little wig occasion.

Mr Solicitor (NSW) kept his full cascade of curls on throughout the ancient and traditional tea ceremony. After all, a formal occasion is a formal occasion, even if you’re grappling with risotto balls loaded with wild mushrooms.

Qantas kindly stranded a contingent of worthies from NSW at Sydney airport, including bar Prez Anna Katzmann and the grande fromage of the Judicial Conference of Oz Justice Ruth McColl.

The overflow crowd was herded up the ramp into court two where they viewed a very jerky video coverage of the swearing-in. Oddly, the microphones in court number one were left on while the guests and dignitaries milled and waited for the show to get underway at 11.30 am.

Consequently, the overflow people in Canberra were vastly entertained by bursts of self-basting conversation broadcast live from the main court room.

There were also video links to three courtrooms in Perth and one in Sydney.

“Silence” was ordered by the court attendant a good 10 minutes before the judges filed in. They know their power games those judges

The welcome speeches were workmanlike, although there was nothing to get your juices flowing, with the exception of French himself:

“A proper perspective reminds all of us who occupy public office be it parliamentary, executive or judicial, to see ourselves as other Australians see us. This will be at best with a kind of skeptical respect.”

He thanked Smiler Gleeson for the gift of a very good bottle of whiskey to help ensure “a smooth succession”.

“Although I declare myself in all humility … an agnostic with a sense of wonder, the Catholic confessional tradition runs strongly in my blood.

“So before commencing my duties, I confess to diverse personal relationships over the years.

“They have included the first woman at the independent bar in Western Australia, a stipendiary magistrate, a District Court judge, a president of the Children’s Court of Western Australia and, most recently, the chairman of the Prisoners Review Board.

“Unfortunately the entertainment value of this confession is significantly qualified by the fact that they are all one person – Valerie – my wife and partner for the past 32 years and mother of the three fine young men who are our sons.

“Our marriage has taught me many of the best things I know. Her successive roles as magistrate and District Court judge have eliminated any temptation I might have to speak of hierarchy in relations between courts in this country. What is important are their functions.

“There is no place for judicial snobbery in a marriage or anywhere else for that matter.”

It was a terrific, humane and funny speech.

Smiler Gleeson’s au revoir on Friday, in which he droned on about the flowering of national judicial institutions, such as the AIJA, the Council of Chief Justices and the Judicial Conference, was a comparatively wooden affair.

On Wednesday (Sept. 3) ABA helmsman, Tom Bathurst, popped out a press release praising attorney general Robert McClelland for the “consultative approach adopted by him in making recent appointments to the Federal Court and, in particular, the High Court of Australia”.

Gee, they never said that about (Fabulous) Phil Ruddock.

The real message in Tom-Tom’s statement was found in the flourish at the end:

“The constituent bars of Australia have a wealth of knowledge and experience at a national and local bar level which, the ABA believes, can be beneficially tapped into when appointments are to be made.”