I am a non-lawyer with a particular interest in how systems work. I have been following your podcast in which Victorian Supreme Court judges and others explain a bit about that court. I would like to take up your invitation for listeners to ask questions. The following questions all relate to the first episode in the series. 1
At one point, Justice Champion said:
“I think the community look at this building – and they walk past it every day – have very little idea about what goes on in the building [and] not much appreciation of the kind of work that we do.
We need to find ways of bringing the community in.
When I sit on the bench, you would look around with some fantastic cases, full of drama and full of importance. You would look up and see the seats are empty.”
His Honour emphasised the word “in” in a way that suggested to me he wanted some action on this point. I could not agree more. Some general ways of achieving this might include:
Q1: What specific actions will Gertie take bring the community back into the court?
Question 2 Justice Riordan said in relation to commercial matters:
“For the parties, things are happening at a million miles an hour. There are strategies being undertaken. To the informed observer it’s quite intriguing as you watch the way the parties are manoeuvring, but generally it’s by reference to documents and if you don’t know what’s in the documents, you’re not picking up on the subtleties that might be apparent to someone who is crawling all over the detail.”
Not knowing what’s going on is a major impediment to making cases interesting for people. The answers are not clear because documents can be lengthy and have information that may be private and sensitive.
Q2: How can (non-sensitive parts of) documents be made available to the public gallery? WIFI?
Justice Riordan also said:
“You will never read in the Herald Sun, or in any other paper for that matter, the paper saying, ‘Justice Riordan got the sentence right again.’”
I assume Justice Riordan does do a good job of sentencing and for this to be misrepresented to the community creates problems: We are left with a ridiculous situation where ordinary people, through their interaction with newspapers/TV/Facebook, have come to believe they know better than judges.
Q3: Why aren’t more journalists ever charged with scandalising the Court? Would judges prefer to be unfairly criticised so they can collectively play the martyr rather than be justifiably criticised and have to improve?
Julian Hetyey, judicial registrar in the Commercial Court told us:
“A lot of cases arise from property development, that’s not surprising given all of the activity in the property market in Australia. We’ve also seen quite a few cases involving litigants from Asian countries, particularly litigants who reside in Asian countries and have various business interests in Australia. So, a classic example would be a business investment by an overseas mainland Chinese party investment in an Australian business where there’s a Chinese counterpart and they have a falling out. They raise a number of different considerations for the Court. Often, we notice that the cases involve very little by way of written documentation, so if a deal is done between the two parties it’s not always reduced to writing. The court needs to be aware of those cultural considerations. The reality is we are living in a multicultural society and we’re also living in a world where commerce is globalised. It means that people will move capital across borders. They will invest in businesses in other countries and we have to be responsive to that.”
Q4: Cross-cultural dealings raise very interesting issues. Could we have some examples of these issues in a future podcast?
Sent to email@example.com on 16 May 2019
This question came in on an email from Phil. Now, the pretext to the question first. And I quote:
'I assume judges do a good job of sentencing and for this to be misrepresented to the community creates problems: We are left with the ridiculous situation where ordinary people, through their interaction with newspapers/TV/Facebook, have come to believe they know better than judges.’
I put this to Justice Lasry, and the question is:
‘Why aren’t more journalists ever charged with scandalising the Court?’
Justice Lex Lasry: Well, we’ve been close to that a few times but I think the answer is because not many journalists do scandalise the court. If they were then there’d be a consequence. But most journalists - sounds like I’m sucking up to them - but really, most journalists do the best they can to report what they see in court and what happens in court. So it only happens when a journalist decides in a particular case to take on the judge or to be critical of the judge in a way that is scandalous.
I’ve said many times, I have no problem with sentences of mine or anyone else being criticised so long as the criticism’s reasonably objective and informed. And if it’s informed criticism - I understand why people want to criticise us. And the pretext of the question refers to the fact that what you get is an article in a newspaper that may be half a column long - the devastating consequences of a crime and a figure.
And to a lot of people, that figure just isn’t long enough imprisonment because they haven’t understood what else is in there. The only way people can be informed obviously is to go online and read the judge’s reasons and they don’t always make really interesting reading but they’re there.
|Recipient||Supreme Court of Victoria|
|17 Jun 2019||Response||Excerpt #562|