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Attorney-General to set up conduct panel to investigate Magistrate

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Attorney-General Vickie Chapman has agreed to set up South Australia’s first judicial conduct panel, which will have the powers of a Royal Commission, to investigate complaints about a serving Magistrate.

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SA Magistrate accused of sexual harassment

A government spokesperson told InDaily this morning that Chapman had agreed to establish the panel and was in the process of appointing a layperson and two current or former judicial officers to sit on it.

Judicial Conduct Commissioner Ann Vanstone recommended that Chapman appoint the panel last Thursday, after her office received complaints from five women about the same Magistrate.

She said the complaints, which came women who work in “various capacities at the courts”, span a period of about seven years, but the Magistrate has denied impropriety.

InDaily revealed last month that one of the complaints was made by former District Court judge’s associate and now federal prosecutor Alice Bitmead, who said she was made to feel like a “sexual object” after the Magistrate allegedly made repeated “inherently sexual” and “deeply uncomfortable” remarks to her at a work dinner and during office hours.

Once appointed, the judicial conduct panel would be the first in the state’s history.

Vanstone said last week that its role would be to conduct an inquiry into matters referred to it and to report back to Chapman.

“Such a report would include the panel’s opinion as to whether removal of a judicial officer were justified,” she said.

“It has the powers of a Royal Commission.”

The Magistrate, who InDaily has chosen not to name, was stood down from sitting duties last month after Vanstone launched a preliminary investigation into Bitmead’s allegations.

But InDaily reported on Tuesday that the Magistrate was still working at the courts, despite being asked by the Chief Magistrate to take leave while his alleged behaviour is investigated.

A spokesperson for Chief Magistrate Mary-Louise Hribal told InDaily that if the panel is established, Chief Justice Chris Kourakis could ask the Governor to suspend the Magistrate from office while the investigation takes place.

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