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Sir Terence O'Rort
18 July, 2006  
Bloodlines on the bench

Queensland bar president Peter Lyons stands by his judge and issues a scathing rebuke of the association’s vice-president, Martin Daubney. Bar n’ Grill in uproar over judicial appointments and “inexcusable” remarks


The problem with a legal backwater like Brisvegas is that the gene pool from which judges are drawn is quite small, not to say modest.

Blood and marriage flow through the place like warm treacle.

The Douglas clan has supplied judges to the Supreme Court for centuries. More recent synergies include Margaret McMurdo, the President of the Court of Appeal, tied by marriage to Philip McMurdo, a judge in the trial division.

Justice Debra Mullins is married to Brisbane solicitor Pat Mullins of Mullins & Mullins and Justice Margaret White’s husband is Michael White QC of the Brisbane Grill.

The Brissy Bar is groaning under the weight of familiar legal names – de Jersey, Williams, Matthews, Fryberg and Derrington – each of whose parents is currently or formerly a member of the Supreme Court. And so it goes.

However, the appointment last week (Monday, July 10) of uncertified Brisbane lawyer Ann Lyons, as a judge of the Supreme Court trial division, has thrown the place into a giddy spin and split the leadership of the Bar n’ Grill.

Justice Lyons’ husband is the current bar president Peter Lyons QC.

This is the same Lyons QC who gave the Bjelke-Beattie regime a blast when the last lot of non-grill outsiders were appointed to the Dizzo:

“If someone is to undergo surgery, would that person willingly accept that the surgery should be done by someone who has never performed surgery before, or perhaps by a learned academic, or by someone with ‘good people skills’, when there are highly skilled and experienced people available to perform the task? ... It is through experience in conducting cases in court that people develop over a long period the skills required of a competent judicial officer… These skills are of central importance for any person given a judicial appointment. There is no substitute for them…”

Except of course when one’s missus is elevated.

Maybe in view of those earlier comments Peter Lyons thought better of doing the greeting spiel at his wife’s swearing-in. Vice-president Martin Daubney stepped-in to do the “honours”, making some arch observations in the process:

“Historically, executive governments have engaged in varying degrees of consultation with stakeholders, including the bar. It must be said that occasionally, the degree of consultation with the bar can at best be described as tokenistic, and even then not necessarily in relation to the candidate or candidates who are ultimately appointed.

The reality is that Your Honour’s appointment, as with some other judicial appointments, will only fuel the debate as to the manner in which the executive government should exercise its power of judicial appointment.”

In The Bowen Hills Bugle the next day (Tuesday, July 11), the Daubster went in harder:

“A deep sense of disquiet has developed in Queensland about the appointment of judicial officers in this state. There is a growing trend for governments to appoint persons to courts in Queensland when there are far better qualified people available to take up the appointments.”

Daphnis de Jersey himself seemed restrained at the swearing in, identifying these highlights in Justice Lyons’ career: inaugural president of the Guardianship and Administrative Tribunal; a member of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal; an assessor under the Health Practitioner (Professional Standards) Act; solicitor practising in criminal, tort and family law; master of laws; tutor and lecturer in a variety of subjects at Queensland University of Technology; anti-discrimination lawyer at Queensland Rail; judge in the Brisbane Catholic Regional Matrimonial Tribunal; and member of the Mater Private Hospital Research Ethics Committee.

What’s all the fuss about? Well, actually we know what it’s about – an outsider got a plum job usually reserved for the lads at the Bar n’ Grill.

imageAttorney General Linda Lavarch (pic) hit back in the Friday Bugle (July 14) saying that in making judicial appointments she consults the Men’s Bar Association, the court, the Queensland solicitors society (men’s and women’s chapters) and the women lawyers’ union.

Strangely, yesterday (Monday, July 17) she said she would formally consult the profession when making judicial appointments. The Daubster said he was “very pleased to receive the attorney general’s reassurance of meaningful consultation with the bar in relation to future judicial appointments”.

The mystery deepened, because today (July 18) Peter Lyons put out a Hamletesque statement to members, agonising about whether to stay on as president of the grill (he has decided to continue to serve), in which he said the AG invited him recently to recommend people for appointment to the court of appeal and to the trial division. Naturally, he put forward worthies from the club. As he said:

“It will be obvious that I have been consulted by the attorney about judicial appointments, including appointments to the magistrates court, since I became president of the bar association. In those consultations I have been able to express my views, freely and frankly, on all occasions.”

All of which runs in the face of Daubney’s complaint about lack of consultation.

While Lyons says he’ll stay on as president relations on the bar council are going to be a little strained, considering the swipe he took at his vice:

“However, my concerns have been seriously exacerbated by the speech made by the vice-president on the occasion of my wife’s swearing-in, and his subsequent remarks to the press. Indeed, but for those things, I would have refrained from expressing any view about my wife’s appointment.

I also wish to make it known that I, as president, was given no notice of what the vice-president intended to say, and had no opportunity to express in advance any opinion on it.

I obviously think it was quite an inappropriate speech; an inexcusable act that discredited and disparaged the integrity of the courts and the judiciary.”

imageAll of which has rather overshadowed yesterday’s swearing-in of District Court judge Fleur Kingham (seen here), described in The Bugle as a civil libertarian and student union activist. She hails from the not-so-busy Land and Resources Tribunal.

Her grandfather was a vaudeville performer, magician and escapologist while her uncle was an actor in the TV soap The Young Doctors.

Fleur’s hubby is David Barbagello, a former adviser to premier Wayne Goss. He played a part in the ALP electoral rorts (sic) scandal that resulted in the Shepherdson inquiry of 2001.

Barbagello admitted that he falsely enrolled electors and subsequently was fined $1,000 with no conviction recorded.

When I left the O’Rort manor this morning clutching a packet of my wife’s nourishing sandwiches, I couldn’t help thinking what a splendid judicial officer Lady O’Rort might make.

She’s served on the Tuckshop Complaints Tribunal at St Johannes’s as well as holding various advisory positions under Minister Russ Hinze. Lady Justice O’Rort has a rather nice ring to it, don’t you think? We’ll probably have to wait until the Bjelke-Beattie rabble has been swept from office by the Bjelke-Bjelkes.

Sir Terence O’Rort reporting from Brisbane

 
 

Reader Comments

Posted by: Anonymous
Date: July 19, 2006, 9:28 am

As usual there is a completely disproportionate amount of attention being paid to the appointment of female judicial officers. Enough already.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: July 19, 2006, 11:50 am

Go the Daubster. While the Lyoness' CV sounds OK, these appointments are so minor as to be trivial. As someone intimately involved with the recruitment process for the SSAT, for instance, I know that they are desperate for remotely qualified decision-makers - given that the payment is barely quivalent to an EL1 in the public service ($70 grand or so). Most of these appointments are the virtually honorary sort which first year lawyers with an excess of time and social conscience take for the express purpose of improving their CV. I've held a few of them myself, but not after the age of 26. And as a female, I'm sick of the government defending grossly inappropriate appointments by making this about gender representation. There are plenty of genuinely qualified women about. This sort of nepotistic tokenism makes all of us look pathetic.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: July 19, 2006, 5:37 pm

There are indeed plenty of well-qualified women about. This is another episode in a tragi-comic saga nearly a decade long - a saga of wasted opportunities, ill-informed reaction, and institutional vandalism. The government on the one hand is so crippled by political correctness and the desire to patronise its fellow travellers that it is only by complete accident that it manages to appoint those who are clearly well-qualified. It ends up insulting women practioners of merit, and seriously damaging the court. Has anyone ever bothered to explain how a pleasant but otherwise unremarkable District Court Judge was appointed President of the Court of Appeal? And why White J or Kiefel J and Wilson QC (all women) were passed over for the office not to mention McPherson JA, at that time the best lawyer to have sat on the Supreme Court since the resignation of Gibbs J (he being another wasted opportunity for the Supreme Court)? On the other hand, many at the Queensland bar (including until Friday its current President) seem incapable of recognising that it is entirely legitimate and sensible for the government to seek to widen the pool from which appointments are made. In other jurisdictions, judges who have never practised at the bar include some who are among the very best on the superior court benches, and in my experience none among the worst that distinction is almost always reserved for career barristers. Male career barristers at that. Despair has become the rational response.