30. Nov, 2015

Queensland Justice 101

Cutting through the extraneous niceties of legal theory I’ll explain how the justice system works in Queensland: I’ll explain it in simple terms so that even lawyers can understand it – note the simple words, short sentences and generally uncomplicated syntax:

“Cop catches crook. Crook goes to court. Judge whips him mercilessly with a rotten banana. Crook leaves court smiling and gives Cop the two fingered salute ……. Cop catches crook. Crook goes to court …..”

Here endeth Queensland Justice 101. Not difficult was it?

Sadly, the good burghers of Queensland are well familiar with this cycle of nonsense emanating from the la-la-land of the [in] judicial fraternity.

Let’s examine the latest development of judicial horseshit from our learned cross-dressers.

The Southport Magistrates Court is one of the state’s busiest court houses and an important centre for applied judicial twaddle. According to the Queensland Police Crime Heat Map, the Courthouse is located at one of Queensland’s violent assault and drugs epicentres.[1]

In September, Southport’s new head magistrate Chris Callaghan, banned police from carrying their firearms, Tasers, batons and handcuffs inside the court. At the time both senior police and the police union explicitly criticised the ban arguing it would put the public and officers at risk of injury.

Two weeks ago a female officer was injured when seriously ­shoulder-charged by an unrestrained and escaping prisoner.  The police reiterated their concerns. 

Last Friday Queenslander’s were treated to an item of news the very nonsense of which was breathtakingly absurd. Renowned ‘soft-touch’ Magistrate Bernadette Callahan of the Southport Magistrate’s Court [no, not senior Magistrate Chris Callaghan, that’s her brother!] refused to allow a dangerous prisoner to be handcuffed in her court. The delighted prisoner, one Bill Pederson whose bare-top photo showed him to be a body builder in supreme condition, ‘leapt’ at the opportunity of freedom by bounding the dock, jumping from the first to the ground floor and making a dash for the front doors.

Although prevented from escaping, three officers sustained injuries in re-catching him and furious police lambasted, not for the first time, Magistrate ‘Soft Touch’ Callaghan. Police Union Vice President said: “We wouldn’t call [her] a soft-touch … we’d say she’s totally out of touch with reality”.[2]

To date the last word on the matter is that the police, quite understandably are set to defy the magistrates by refusing to bring offenders to court unless they are in handcuffs.[3]

The Coast’s senior policeman, Assistant Commissioner Brian Codd, has told his officers not to take “unacceptable risks” with prisoners they fear could be violent or try to escape.

Moreover, both Codd and the union agree that the magistrates’ refusal to allow high-risk ­offenders to be handcuffed — and a ban on police carrying weapons and cuffs inside Southport courthouse — could also be in breach of state and federal workplace safety laws.

Right on! Who in their right mind could argue with this? Several evidently – particularly those who live in the unreal world enveloped by the arcane niceties of the law.

The arguments supporting the banning of handcuffs and police accoutrements may briefly be put thus: concerns that armed police in courtrooms could be “intimidatory” and, in the words of one lawyer: “Shackling a defendant in court not only violates the dignity of the individual, but it seriously erodes the presumption of innocence which the court is bound to uphold.’’ [4]  

To compound this nonsense, the ‘very’ progressive, thoroughly modern and intellectually challenged Deputy Premier Jackie Trad defended the magistrates and judges, saying they controlled the courts. “It’s not a Wild West show, it’s a court of law,’’ she quipped.[5]

Right on! One may deduce therefore that shoulder charging and jumping from the dock are quite acceptable in a court of law - but not in the Wild West?

By contrast, Assistant Commissioner Codd soberly observed: “The overriding concern for us is … the safety of magistrates, the safety of the public and the safety of our officers. Police have a lot of expertise in managing risks and appropriate use of force. If my officers are asked (by a magistrate) to do something that they consider presents an unacceptable risk, then I will be asking them not to entertain that risk.”[6]

So what does all this tell us about the state of Justice in Queensland? It tells us that the affairs of law are indeed in in-judicial hands completely out of synchronicity with the demands of common sense and the expectations of the public.

This situation presents several serious possibilities.

In the first instance, confronted with an actively antagonistic judicial system, who can really blame the police for losing interest in their job? Following on from this, once they lose interest many will leave, others will slack off, some might turn a blind eye whilst others, hopefully a minority, might succumb to the view that: “if you can’t beat’em, join’em!” A dollars here, a few there – and the first step to full blown corruption have been taken.

A further most obvious corollary to such a criminal ‘friendly’ regime is the straightforward message it signals to existing and potential criminals – just do it! – with impunity!

For the public all this naturally means a much diminished state of security, a diminished confidence in the judicial system, a call for private security and vigilante groups and an increased demand for private firearms and weapons of personal defence.

What the judicial fraternities in general have long lost sight of is the fact that it is the job of the state to protect its citizens and to allow its citizens to exercise their right to go about their business peaceably.

In doing so the state has at its service its police and civil services – which include the judiciary. But, in its deployment of these services, it is incumbent upon the state to take every step to ensure that these services are properly trained for the job they do and that they have every reasonable chance of operating as securely as they can within respective ‘workplaces’. 

A responsible government would no more think of sending Sopwith Camels to the Middle East nor would it would expect its firemen to attend an inner city fire with horse-drawn fire tenders and wooden ladders. Why therefore should it not expect its police officers to attend court dressed for duty? It has long been accepted that full duty uniform for police officers comprises inter alia handcuffs and weapons. Therefore in accompanying dangerous offenders to court such officers should be entitled to be able to safeguard their own and the public’s security from potential violence emanating from those offenders.

There exists a strong body of public opinion that would argue legal decision-making is out of touch with public demand.

Although quite obviously the law and its administration should be ‘above’ popular politics, the law should not consider itself to be superior to the popular sentiment of the lawmakers, namely the public.

To this end, I have long held that, in the interests of justice, not law, there is a dire need to radically overhaul the legal system. Such an overhaul might look for example at appointing judges in a more democratic and transparent manner. Why should potential judges not submit themselves to public scrutiny and let the public, rather than their colleagues, decide whether they are fit to hold office?

I have suggested elsewhere that, on a local level, a controversial argument could be made for the election of district judges and magistrates. I would further suggest that this would bring some accountability back into the judicial system and return the law to those that own it – the public.

This is the core of the matter. We own the law, we the people. Not the lawyers, not the judges, not our parliamentary representatives but the broad mass of the body politic. The law is our instrument, written up on our behalf by our representatives in parliament. It is enforced by the police – thus they should be known as a force, they are not a service – and it is administered and interpreted by a judiciary – meaning a body of judges. All on our behalf!

There should be no room for maverick judges any more than there should be room for maverick police officers. Each has a job to do for their employers – the people. 

The time is therefore nigh to address the arbitrary nature of the appointment of our judiciary and the sometime incompetence and non-accountability of their performance.

A good starting point would be to set aside awhile the manual of jurisprudence and reflect that we are a democracy; that in a democracy the people are the state and, in administering the laws of the state, the judiciary should be ever mindful of their job descriptions and their accountability to the highest court in the land, namely, the people.

……………..

 


[2] The Courier Mail 28 November 2015.

[3] The Courier Mail Website 29 November 2015.  http://www.couriermail.com.au/subscribe/news/1/index.html?sourceCode=CMWEB_WRE170_a_GGL&mode=premium&dest=http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/police-defy-court-order-over-handcuffs/story-fntwpug1-1227626899598&memtype=anonymous

[4] loc.cit.

[5] loc.cit.

[6] loc.cit.