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Accused SA magistrate fails to stop inquiry


A suspended South Australian magistrate facing sexual harassment and misconduct allegations has failed in his legal attempt to stop an inquiry into his behaviour going ahead.

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South Australia’s Court of Appeal rejected the magistrate’s claim that the state’s Legal Conduct Commissioner acted without jurisdiction and beyond its power. The magistrate also argued that one of the witnesses should not have been permitted to have legal representation. That contention was also rejected by the court.

The commissioner, seeking to undertake the state’s first judicial conduct panel inquiry since the position was established, is considering complaints from a number of women in a case first reported by InDaily.

Among his arguments against the panel proceeding, the magistrate questioned the constitutional validity of the Act underpinning the inquiry.

The court’s judgement rejects all of the grounds for appeal against the panel, which was agreed to by then Attorney-General Vickie Chapman in June last year on a recommendation from the commissioner.

It says the establishment of the panel concept by state legislation was designed “to enhance public confidence in the judicial system and to protect the impartiality and integrity of the judicial system by ‘enhancing the existing mechanisms for removal of judicial officers where they are unable or unwilling to appropriately discharge their duties’.

“Were it otherwise, a range of potential misbehaviours by judicial officers, including sexual misconduct, nepotism, bullying and discrimination, might appear to go unchecked, which could only erode confidence in the judiciary and, potentially, detract from the imperative of upholding judicial independence and impartiality and, more broadly, public confidence in the administration of justice…”

Quoting from correspondence, the judgement reveals that the commissioner had conducted a preliminary review of the allegations last year and the magistrate had denied any impropriety.

It says “she (the commissioner) had put the essence of each of the allegations to the judicial officer through his solicitors; and that in the case of some he had denied them, and in the case of others he had admitted some of the conduct but had said it was, in effect, innocuous”.

“The Commissioner’s letter concluded: ‘You will see that the complaints raise allegations of varying seriousness. In my opinion each is credible, and each is worthy of inquiry by a panel. If some or all are substantiated they could be viewed as demonstrating inappropriate conduct and the engendering of inappropriate relationships in the workplace over a long period of time. In my opinion they could justify removal’.”

The panel isn’t a criminal investigation, rather a mechanism to examine the behaviour of judicial officers.

The full judgement has been published online.

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