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Bar Talk
26 April, 2007  
Here and there

“Soapy” George Brandis loves the silken bauble Daphnis gave him … Hobart’s most unstoppable commentator sues for defo … Batty barristers’ fees bring on swoons of envy … DPP Cowdery reminds his troops about commenting on pending cases

imageWhat is it about Soapy George Brandis SC that drives right-thinking people to distraction?

As if being given a silk gown as the personal gift of Daphnis de Jersey (pic) was not irksome enough. Now the freshly minted “arts” minister is trying to sell the line that Philip Ruddock is a humanitarian because he has a “very sophisticated” collection of aboriginal art works.

Phil “Amnesty” Ruddock is only one of numerous cabinet ministers with a “deep and educated” interest in the arts, according to Soapy who peddled this nonsense at a big arts forum at Sydney Uni last week.

Who does he think he’s kidding? Howard and his pack of swivel-eyed scrubbers are cultural Poujardists – pandering to red-neck sentiment, suspicious of creative talent, despising modernism, and wanting to run the productivity slide rule over artistic output.

But back to old Soap. Quite apart from the dismay at Daphnis giving him silk, when the protocol seeks to reserve the status to full-timers in the trade, there were all sorts of rumours swirling about the significance of the gesture.

imageOf course, they were ridiculous. Why would Daphnis need a friend at court in Canberra when Tubby Callinan’s (pic) vacancy was up for filling? The Queensland CJ possessed all the merit and credentials required of a High Court appointee without some low-level political operative having to grease his path. How insulting.

Daphnis is a capable-enough Capital C in his own right and wrapping Soapy in silk was purely because he had distinguished himself as an advocate in politics, rather than a multiple-failed applicant while at the bar n’ grill.

Now, The Tub himself has waded into the issue with a useful contribution. He told the Tasmanian bench and bar din-dins at the end of March that his replacement should come straight from the bar, because the High needed someone with recent practising experience!

imageAs Daphnis might say, “Thanks Tub”.

Anyway, Soapy Brandis (pic) just loves the silk stuff.

Never mind the bar’s tiresome stipulation only to use the designation Senior Council or SC while in practice: see page six, last point, in the application form.

Just revel in the silken adornment that Soap plasters on his ministerial web site, his senate web entry, his official biography and on every ukase and press release he can issue.

* * *

Greg Barns, once a Liberal then a Democrat parliamentary aspirant, and now Hobart barrister, has taken up active blogging for the Crikey web site, which now has the benefit of his insights across the hot, and even mild, issues of the day.

imageSo what happened to the defamation action he commenced against the publisher of The Tasmanian Times, Lindsay Tuffin” and one John Hayward?

Hayward had blogged on Tuffin’s site that Barns was a “kind of part-time Goebbels to the Lennon regime”.

Barns (seen here) was incandescent with fury and sued. But, what was the defamatory bit? Being called Goebbels or part-time?

Whatever, it must have been distressing – yet it does seem a tiny bit precious to sue for wounded feelings if you’re dishing it out fairly consistently and tub thumping about free speech.

Settlement can’t be far off.

* * *

Fairfax newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, have settled their costs dispute with British American Tobacco Australia Services.

The costs arose from injunction proceedings against the papers, which wanted to run more of the Clayton Utz internal memo revealing “iniquities” in the way lawyers for the cancer stick manufacturers defended the Rolah McCabe case.

The injunction proceedings were settled late last year, promptly to be followed by a brawl over the whopping bill put in by leaders at the cigarette bar.

Fairfax made an application under the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules for the judge to look at the costs.

Counsels’ fee invoices were called for. Initially the BATAS bill came in at over $600,000 which according to the newspapers’ lawyers caused “shock and awe” and was “so astonishingly high it couldn’t be justified”.

On sighting the amounts Stephen Robb QC, for Fairfax, is said to have swooned, saying that he has known the Batty barristers for years and now he discovers that they have been charging about $3,000 a day more than him.

“I’ll have to go back to chambers to compose myself,” he cried.

* * *

imageOn the day (April 20) it became possible to reveal that the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal had knocked Margaret Cunneen (pic) out of the ring in the “MG” rape retrial, DPP Nicholas Cowdery issued a press release in which he affirmed his “complete support” for her:

“I remain completely confident that Ms Cunneen will continue to perform her duties as a Crown prosecutor in a competent and professional manner – with great skill, courage, integrity and commitment.”

Hear, hear.

The day before he sent the following email to all staff.

From: Cowdery, Nicholas
Sent: Thursday, 19 April 2007 8:04 AM
Subject: Duties of Prosecutors

Dear All

In connection with the recently aborted Duke University prosecution in the USA, The President of the National District Attorneys Association has issued the following statement.

It is not news to us – but it deserves reinforcement.

N R Cowdery AM QC



The Primary Ethical Duty of a Prosecutor Is To Seek Justice, Not Merely To Convict

National District Attorneys Association President Mathias Heck Jr, has just released a significant and powerful statement on the case.

The recent case of the exonerated athletes in North Carolina has affirmed the importance of the ethical standards of America’s prosecutors and serves as a reminder that the primary ethical duty of a prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict.

The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) has been instrumental in developing rigorous rules and standards which govern the actions of prosecutors. These standards severely limit public comment on pending cases, the personal belief of the prosecutor as to the defendants guilt, the contents or existence of confessions, the results of any scientific tests, and the credibility of witnesses.

The NDAA’s commitment to the highest ethical standards is reflected by the adoption of the National Prosecution Standards, the establishment of the National Center for Prosecution Ethics and the provision of specialized training in prosecution ethics and professionalism at the National Advocacy Center.

In our search for justice, prosecutors are uniquely obligated to make timely disclosure of any evidence which may tend to negate the guilt of the accused. On a daily basis, over 30,000 state and local prosecutors across the country are responsible for evaluating evidence in cases and making difficult decisions to prosecute, not prosecute, or dismiss charges previously filed when the interests of justice are best served. Sometimes justice is best served by declining to prosecute.

The confidence of the public and the very integrity of the criminal justice process depend on strict compliance with these ethical standards. To the extent that any individual prosecutor violates these high ethical standards the public confidence in our criminal justice system is undermined and the image of all prosecutors suffers.

The NDAA, as the voice of Americas prosecutors, condemns any intentional violation of these standards.

The allegations in this case, if true, represent an aberration. They are not the custom and practice of the thousands of prosecutors who each day seek the truth and uphold the high ethical standards required of prosecutors who bear special responsibilities to the American public.”

See also Barry Lane’s round-up of barrister blues in Melbourne.