Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 29 March 1979
Page: 1371

Mr BIRNEY (Phillip) - I draw the attention of the House to a most intemperate and ill-considered outburst by the Chief Justice of New South Wales against one of the most respected members of this Parliament. I refer to the most honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Gillard), whose reputation for integrity, honesty and fair play is well known and appreciated by members on both sides of the House and by all of his constituents. This highly defamatory statement was issued publicly today and followed in the wake of a letter written by the honourable member by way only of a character reference for a Mr Vince Gordon of Bathurst who was appealing to the Supreme Court against his disbarment as a solicitor. It is a matter of profound regret that the Chief Justice appears to be so far removed, remote and uninformed as to what actually happens in similar circumstances in courts below that of the court of appeal.

Letters, from almost beyond the time of legal memory, have been written to presiding magistrates and judges pleading for leniency in a variety of cases and advancing matters within the peculiar knowledge of the writers and referable to the general good character of a person, with the sole intention that their representations be taken into consideration in mitigation of penalty- the singular expectation being that they be read out in open court and so form part of the official record of those proceedings and taken into consideration on the all important question of what is the appropriate penalty. It is enshrined in the law that courts are duty bound to take into consideration the previous good character of any person placed in jeopardy there can be no exception here. That was all that was intended by the honourable member for Macquarie and it is sad reflection on the Chief Justice himself that he could not see the wood for the trees and that he proceeded with all due dispatch and reckless haste to place a dark and sinister interpretation on the actions of the honourable member as instanced by his use of the words 'grave impropriety'.

The Chief Justice complains that the letter was written to him personally. This complaint would no doubt be justified if the letter were marked personal and confidential' which of course it was not. He himself has fallen into grievous error when he describes the member's action as being taken to attempt to influence the course of justice by making a personal approach to him. He has not only placed on the letter the dark and sinister interpretation of which I speak but also has shrouded it with a cloak and dagger connotation that is utterly baseless. From what the Chief Justice has said, he has deluded himself into believing that the letter's intended destination was firstly for his own eyes and thence into his back pocket. By the use of the grossly excessive and uncalled for verbiage to which I have referred the ordinary reasonable man in the street reading it could easily come to the conclusion that the Chief Justice was severely castigating the honourable member for an alleged attempt to pervert the course of justice which is inherent in the words he used. I quote from the telex:

Sir Laurencesaid the M.P., Mr Reg Gillard, Federal member for Macquarie had written to him personally presumably to 'influence the outcome' of a case concerning a Bathurst solicitor who was struck off the roll.

To attempt to pervert the course of justice is a crime well known to the law and one which ranks high on the criminal calendar.

Mr Barry Jones (LALOR, VICTORIA) - I raise this point of order because the remark made earlier by the honourable member for Phillip was to the effect that the action taken by the New South Wales Chief Justice was defamatory. It is a lawyer's opinion that it is defamatory. If that is the case then there are two grounds. Firstly, it would suggest that the honourable member for Macquarie would have a right of action against the Chief Justice of New South Wales, in which case I would think that would suggest that the matter should not be raised in the House now. Secondly, and I am not a person who constantly takes recourse to points of order, I draw your attention to Standing Order 75 which states:

No Member may use offensive words against either House of the Parliament or any Member thereof, against any member of the Judiciary, or against any statute unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal.

I would have thought that, prima facie, to say a judge has acted in a way which is defamatory prejudices an issue which may best be determined in a court.

Suggest corrections