Richard Ackland June 17, 2011
Amy Cooper, 18, was before her, appealing against the suspension of her provisional driving licence for exceeding the speed limit (twice).
'Shut up please, ma'am. I'm going to talk to you now and you listen hard . . . That's a disgusting response . . . Your explanations are pitiful . . . And you think you're god's gift, do you? . . . Shut your mouth, because I don't think it's going to do you any good.'' That was the magistrate Jennifer Betts in full cry at Ryde Local Court in June 2009.
Three months later a Mr Maresch was before her on a parking matter. She gave him a terrible spray when he tried to explain that he was booked in a loading zone, but he had a trailer attached to his car.
''This is an offence of strict liability, sir, okay? . . . You are not a lawyer, okay? . . . And I've had a gutful of people such as yourself coming to this court and pleading not guilty, having hearings and getting found guilty as soon as they open their mouth. . . . Shut - be quiet please . . . Don't interrupt me.''
Betts's depression was getting the better of her. Her bullying, aggression and intemperateness were of a high order, for a judicial officer.
Judges and magistrates are supposed to look as though they are dispassionately deciding people's cases and giving them fair hearings, even though in their heart of hearts they might have made up their mind, or they can't stand the sight of the person appearing before them.
Another magistrate, Brian Maloney, who appears next week before Parliament to answer findings by the Judicial Commission, is also accused of bullying, in at least one instance, although his antics seem to be in a different category to those of Betts.
Maloney was a joker, a bit of a clown. He liked to entertain, and if embarrassing pregnant women or rushing parties to give undertakings was the outcome, it appears not to have been driven by nasty demons. Maloney is pleading the bipolar defence and as we heard when Betts appeared in Parliament on Wednesday, she pleaded the depression defence. The truth is that medication won't cure an inherently unpleasant disposition.
Just about every solicitor or barrister who appears before the Bureau de Spank on a disciplinary matter pleads the mental health card. They have been crushed with stress, divorce, bankruptcy and misery. They went mad and reached for pills and liquor.
As the Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing said: ''Insanity is a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.'' And who can say that lawyers do not occupy one of the finer precincts of an insane world?
When the high-profile Melbourne barrister Peter Hayes, QC, died in an Adelaide hotel room in 2007 after being administered a drug of dependence by a 28-year-old woman, a number of worthies rallied to say that drug dependence was ''rife'' in the legal profession. Rife may be a bit much but certainly life in the law caper can be stressful.
Barristers have set up BarCare to administer psychological comfort to demented colleagues. It was established after a barrister was found lolloping down Oxford Street naked and in a confused state. Since this is the pool of people from which judges and magistrates are largely drawn, BarCare seems a worthy way to protect the public interest.
Being a magistrate, with its daily parade of human misery, is a sure way to be sent nuts. But it is not the only way. In fact, most people who do work under pressure are bound to reach a snapping point.
Most journalists are quite insane and as for politicians, well, the peculiar state of their mental hygiene is visible for all to see.
Having politicians judging judicial officers is a bit like having one branch of the asylum acting as caretakers for another. It seems to be one tiny corner where judges failed to properly nail down their ''independence''.
Before 1700, when the Act of Settlement came into play, the Crown had to apply by writ to the courts for removal of a judge. The judges were in charge of that process. When the Judicial Commission legislation was introduced, the judges were incandescent with indignation about the whole idea. The scheme was modified to allow them to control the show, including the conduct division. As it is, most of the complaints about judges are either dismissed or referred back to the ''head of jurisdiction'' for a quiet chat in the library over tea and a sponge cake.
If someone tried to introduce the Act of Settlement today, the judges would be screaming from the rooftops. Yet, parliamentary retention of the final say on misconduct or incapacity is a useful check on the sort of clubby protection racket that accompanies any self-regulating guild.
It's not only lawyers and judges. The medicos are just as bad. A survey cited by the former head of the Health Care Complaints Commission in NSW, Merrilyn Walton, found that only 10 per cent of doctors would report a colleague for poor or inappropriate behaviour. Even when they are reported they are arguably treated too leniently. The cocaine-addicted neurosurgeon Suresh Nair was allowed to operate on people's brains after being suspended twice. He was still practising ''under supervision'' at the time he was arrested after the deaths of two women in his apartment.
What the Betts and Maloney cases may do is act as a wake-up call for those quite senior judges whose rudeness, bumptiousness and unfairness is legion in and outside the profession.
Rarely do they get hauled over the coals; that is usually the preserve of those lower down the judicial food chain.
The message is clear: smell the eucalyptus and be nicer.
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This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/high-time-to-put-an-end-to-clubby-protection-20110616-1g5sw.html