Queensland government and Supreme Court’s relationship descends into crisis
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Matt Wordsworth
One of Queensland’s most senior judges has questioned the appointment of a new Chief Justice as the relationship between government and Supreme Court descends into crisis.
SARAH FERGUSON, PRESENTER: An unprecedented legal and political stoush has erupted in Queensland over the appointment of a new Chief Justice, who’s been described as a puppet willing to do the State Government’s bidding. There are calls from within the legal profession and even the judiciary for the new chief judge, Tim Carmody, to resign. One of the state’s most senior judges sitting on the Supreme Court bench is now openly questioning the independence and ability of the new appointee and has called on him to resign. Matt Wordsworth reports.
MATT WORDSWORTH, REPORTER: It was this announcement by the Queensland Premier which sparked a heavyweight battle in the legal community.
CAMPBELL NEWMAN, QUEENSLAND PREMIER: I’m very conscious that it is a very historic day indeed.
MATT WORDSWORTH: The Premier and the Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie elevated Chief Magistrate Tim Carmody QC to the highest judicial position in Queensland, the office of Chief Justice.
JARROD BLEIJIE, QLD ATTORNEY-GENERAL (June 12): I thank the legal community for the consultation, the extensive consultation that we’ve undertaken and I thank the legal community in their numbers, obviously today, the support, Mr Carmody, that you have amongst the profession and in the community for your elevation to high office of Chief Justice.
MATT WORDSWORTH: After a week of bitter infighting, a Supreme Court judge is now openly demanding Mr Carmody step aside.
Is this a crisis in the Supreme Court?
PETER DAVIS, BARRISTER: I think to describe that as a crisis is an understatement. It is like the position of the Titanic five minutes after they’ve hit the iceberg.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Until he resigned last week in protest, Peter Davis was the president of the Bar Association and one of the state’s highest profile barristers, prosecuting Bundaberg surgeon Dr Jayant Patel and notorious sex offender Robert John Fardon. Peter Davis was consulted over the appointment of the new Chief Justice.
PETER DAVIS: I met with the Attorney and with his chief-of-staff at Parliament House and there was a frank discussion about who ought to be the next Chief Justice of Queensland.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Suffice to say you weren’t urging the appointment of Tim Carmody.
PETER DAVIS: I think that’s obvious.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Tim Carmody has been the centre of controversy for months, accused of siding with the Government over its controversial anti-bikie laws.
WALTER SOFRONOFF, BARRISTER: To appoint somebody who is overtly publicly supportive of a government at a time when there’s a debate about the propriety of the actions of the Attorney-General vis-a-vis the court, for a judicial officer, a junior judicial officer, magistrate to do that and then to see him offered this promotion is a very disturbing thing.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Walter Sofronoff says as a Family Court judge, Carmody was found by an appeals court to have cut and pasted paragraphs of a previous judgment into a subsequent one.
WALTER SOFRONOFF: He patched together, something like a university student would do an essay, hoping it would pass muster. The result, of course, was that it was overturned unanimously by the appeal court of the Family Court, the full Family Court. And what do you think was the effect on the husband and wife?
MATT WORDSWORTH: At the announcement of his appointment, one of the first questions Tim Carmody faced was about his independence.
TIM CARMODY, INCOMING QUEENSLAND CHIEF JUSTICE: I am fiercely independent. If my views happen to coincide with the Government’s views, that’s pure coincidence. There’ll be many times when I disagree with the Government’s position, but again, that’s irrelevant to the job I’m doing.
MATT WORDSWORTH: In other media interviews, he revealed not one Supreme Court judge rang to congratulate him.
TIM CARMODY (June 12): I’ve often said, and I’m sure nobody will argue, that I may not be the smartest lawyer in the room, and if you were in a room with me and I was the smartest lawyer, it might be time to leave it. But, there’s more to being a Chief Justice than a black letter lawyer.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Solicitor and vice president of the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties Terry O’Gorman says it harks back to another era.
TERRY O’GORMAN, VP, QLD COUNCIL OF CIVIL LIBERTIES: This is yet again an indication of the fact that we are back fair and square in Joh land.
MATT WORDSWORTH: He says it’s reminiscent of the meteoric rise of former Police Commissioner Terry Lewis, a central figure in the Fitzgerald corruption inquiry of the 1980s.
TERRY O’GORMAN: He leapfrogged dozens of senior police officers. The comparison between this appointment of Chief Justice and that of Sir Terry Lewis is eerie and extremely worrying. The only difference is Mr Lewis was later found guilty of corruption; there’s no suggestion that Judge Carmody is anywhere along that track.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Corruption fighter Tony Fitzgerald himself weighed in with a statement, saying, “… it’s deeply troubling that the megalomaniacs currently holding power in Queensland are prepared to damage even fundamental institutions like the Supreme Court and cast doubt on fundamental principles like the independence of the judiciary.”
And last night in a speech, one of the state’s most senior judges, Justice John Muir of the Court of Appeal, openly called for Tim Carmody to step aside.
JOHN MUIR, QLD COURT OF APPEAL (male voiceover): “… the obvious lack of support for the Chief Magistrate’s elevation … see(s) that the only appropriate course is for him to withdraw”.
WALTER SOFRONOFF: That is a remarkable event. A man who is thoroughly conservative has been provoked to make the speech that he did last night at the North Queensland Bar Association dinner. I’ve never seen anything like it.
MATT WORDSWORTH: The ABC has been told Tim Carmody has taken leave and not available for comment. The Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie issued a two-line statement.
JARROD BLEIJIE (male voiceover): “Judge Carmody’s professional and life experience is both extinguished and diverse. His Honour has the keen legal knowledge, administrative skills and integrity that are essential qualities for the role of Chief Justice.”
MATT WORDSWORTH: The question now is whether other members of the Supreme Court will speak out.
WALTER SOFRONOFF: It’s time to remove himself from the picture so that controversy doesn’t attach to the Supreme Court and so that the judges can be at peace.
SARAH FERGUSON: Matt Wordsworth reporting.