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Top magistrates caught in scandal -

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Top magistrates caught in scandal

Samantha Hawley reported this story on Wednesday, November 4, 2009 12:18:00

ELEANOR HALL: Two of the nation's top magistrates have been caught up in a scandal, which has
prompted a police inquiry into whether the administration of justice in the country has been
compromised.

The police are investigating whether the ACT chief magistrate, Ron Cahill, leaked court documents
to a Victorian Magistrate.

The details of the case concerned have been suppressed but a court hearing was aborted last week.

And the ACT Government has now come under attack for going public with the case.

In Canberra, Samantha Hawley reports.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Ron Cahill is the Australian Capital Territory's chief magistrate and after a more
than 30 year career he's retiring next month.

RON CAHILL: I believe I've done absolutely nothing wrong.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: His last weeks in the job will now be dogged by controversy.

On Monday, a police warrant was executed on Ron Cahill's Canberra office and documents were seized.

It's alleged Mr Cahill provided material to the Victorian deputy chief magistrate, Peter Lauritsen
that could affect the administration of justice.

Ron Cahill broke his silence on local radio in Canberra this morning.

RON CAHILL: You know this is not a case of me influencing a magistrate at all. It's a case of doing
what I thought was appropriate to assist in making the case run appropriately.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The details of the case are subject to a suppression order but prosecutors aborted
a hearing last week after the Melbourne magistrate reportedly revealed he had viewed background
material on the case.

The ACT's Attorney-General Simon Corbell held a press conference to confirm that a police
investigation is under way.

SIMON CORBELL: On Friday 23rd October I was advised of the matter concerning the administration of
justice involving the chief magistrate of the Australian Capital Territory. Within 24 hours of
receiving that advice I referred the matter to the director of Public Prosecutions who has
subsequently referred the matter to the police.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Mr Corbell hasn't ruled out a judicial inquiry into the matter. That would be the
only way that the ACT Government could stop the magistrate from residing over future court cases.

SIMON CORBELL: As you would be aware, the government cannot require or direct a judicial officer, a
judge or a magistrate to stand down. It is quite a clear separation of powers. There are a range of
roles and responsibilities and powers available to me under legislation and these are all matters
that I'm having consideration to at this time.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Ron Cahill did return to his court duties today.

He's expressed dismay at the Attorney-General's decision to speak publicly about the matter.

RON CAHILL: I'm amazed that we've had any publicity at all because I thought there'd be no further
comment because I've asked and requested and he's acceded to the desire that I put it all in
writing which I'm endeavouring and working on just at the moment in what spare time I have. I'll
fight it as far as I have to fight it because I have a firm belief there's nothing at all I've done
wrong.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: That means all the way to the High Court.

Tim Vines is from the ACT Council for Civil Liberties.

TIM VINES: We would hope that the Attorney-General Simon Corbell will afford the chief magistrate
the same presumptions of innocence that he as a magistrate has afforded all those who appear before
him and that at this stage the Attorney-General should be spending more time in ensuring that
proper processes are followed than potentially prejudicing the process by speaking out on mere
allegations at this stage.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: So you think it was a wrong move by Simon Corbell to hold a press conference and
to detail these allegations?

TIM VINES: Well I think so. Of course the public has the right to be informed of any allegation
that's made against a judicial officer, but where the process amounts, or where the allegation
amounts to misconduct, there are processes that are set in place deliberately so that the issue
doesn't become politicised.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The ACT's Opposition spokeswomen, Vicki Dunn, agrees the ACT Government has been
too quick in going public.

VICKI DUNN: I'm concerned that this matter is played out in the public when it really shouldn't
play out in the public. The position of the judiciary and the magistrate is very important in our
democracy and these matters should be played out in quite a different way.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Police says the investigation will take some time.

Mr Cahill is due to retire on December the 15th.

ELEANOR HALL: Samantha Hawley reporting.