“We have the right to know if our courts are unsafe — for practitioners and non-practitioners alike,” says contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence, in another eye-opening IA investigation.
The heading in The Sunday Age said it all: ‘Threatening behaviour on rise in Courts’.
Matt Norman and I can vouch for this.
The intro to the story by Chris Vedelago said it all:
‘SECURITY threats at Victoria's courts are soaring, with incidents of intimidation, abusive behaviour and bomb hoaxes now occurring almost daily.’
Matt Norman and I can vouch for that, too.
Chris went on to say:
‘FOI documents show that most security incidents involved threats that were made within the secured court complexes, including inside the court rooms.’
Spot on. Matt Norman and I can also vouch for that.
I'm grateful to The Age for securing these documents under FOI from the Department of Justice and for paying for information that the State should be compelled to provide to the general public for a nominal processing fee.
But little wonder that The Age had to force the issue through an FOI request.
I haven't the benefit of reading the documents in full – or of knowing the specifics of The Age's request to the DOJ – or if the documents were redacted in any way.
But while the stats don't surprise me:
‘Documents obtained by The Sunday Age under freedom of information reveal that 149 ''personal safety incidents'' involving threats were recorded in the court system in 2011, jumping 48 per cent in a single year.’
‘Under Department of Justice guidelines, an incident involves a threat or perceived threat against a member of the judiciary, court staff, court user, or a building or other property.’
What's wrong with this picture?
Do you spot the flaws in this inept and prejudiced definition of what constitutes an 'incident'?
I thought you might.
It's all about threats made against the judiciary, court staff, court users and buildings.
It says nothing about the threats made to us – the general public – by the judiciary, court staff and court users (to quote Chris again)
‘...within the secured court complexes, including inside the court rooms.’
Is that the best that the Department of Justice can come up with?
Who did this report?
Who was interviewed for this report?
I certainly wasn't.
I received an alleged death threat from a lawyer who tried to get me to change my evidence, in the Magistrates Court on May 9, 2011.
This lawyer, Richard Ashley, worked with and for McKean Park Lawyers. I was also a client of theirs. I also shared a mutual client with McKean Park Lawyers. McKean Park Lawyers also withheld my money from this mutual client.
McKean Park Lawyers went on to bankrupt me without my knowledge — and in my absence caused by the very illness triggered by the Richard Ashley confrontation. Go figure. It's called Justice in Victoria.
In Independent Australia, we exposed what was happening in an article entitled The Victorian Injustice System.
(Nota Bene: You can't bankrupt anyone in Australia for an alleged debt of less than $5000. I owed McKean Park Lawyers $1,858).
As Chris writes:
"...FOI documents show the Department of Justice created a centrally managed security database in 2010, nearly a year before the election. There were 101 incidents recorded in 2010 and 149 incidents in 2011, which amounts to a threat occurring about one out of every two days the courts were in session. Based on data available for the first quarter of 2012, the number of incidents could reach a new high by the end of this year."
Is the horrible experience that caused me to spiral into PTSD documented in the DOJ report?
It certainly falls into the time zone.
Is the CCTV court footage showing the Ashley attack contained in the report?
Is the statement I made to Victoria Police about the attack contained in the report?
In obvious distress, I reported the attack to presiding Magistrate Braun, who ordered me to sit down and told me he wasn't interested in anything that happened unless it happened in his courtroom.
Is the audio of Braun's outrageous statements contained in the report?
Did those compiling the report interview the kind lady from the Court Network who helped calm me and who let me use their phone to call someone.
Did those compiling the report interview the person I called — lawyer Ross Delahunty, from whose Murrumbeena office the Law Institute of Victoria later seized my documents from a private filing cabinet, where they were being kept by Ross for safe keeping?
And who were the lawyers acting for the Law Institute of Victoria during the raid? You guessed it! None other than McKean Park Lawyers!
As a low level investigative hack journalist who has none of the elan of Phyrne Fisher, even I can attest that all of the above would qualify as an 'incident' for the Department of Justice report.
But wait, there's more. I tried to do the right thing and write to the regulatory bodies. Silly me.
Is the letter I wrote to the Chief Magistrate Mr Ian Gray and the Legal Services Commissioner, Mr Michael McGarvie, telling them of the attack and asking them to ensure the CCTV of the attack was protected, in the report? Surely they are.
Were my medical and psychological reports tabled in affidavits in the courts in the Department of Justice's report? Surely they were.
Were my pleadings and material facts of the death threat made verbally and in writing before the Magistrates' Court, The Federal Magistrates' Court, the Federal Court, the Supreme Court of Victoria and the Court of Appeal and, male judges all, contained in the Department of Justice's report? Surely they are.
After all, in his article Chris mentions another death threat made in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court:
‘The Sunday Age believes that recent security incidents could include a threat to kill the defendant in a police corruption case, uttered in the foyer of the Melbourne Magistrates Court...’
Now, I don't want to suggest that because this incident involves the police it IS included in the DOJ report, whereas given I am part of the Great Unwashed, a death threat against me is NOT.
But sadly, that's what I do conclude.
No wonder Victoria's Chief Justice Marilyn Warren is flipping her horsehair wig over the Department of Justice. And with good reason.
I quote this from the Independent Australia article entitled The National Unaustralian Bank, published on May 10 this year:
Ironically, in today’s The Age, journalist Leonie Wood has an article on Chief Justice Marilyn Warren slamming the Department of Justice.
‘In a scathing attack on the Baillieu government’s mandarins, Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren lambasted the department for undermining the courts’ administration of justice.
‘Its relentless measurement of the courts’ performance in terms of financial targets, “outputs” and “deliverables” had relegated what should be the independent third arm of government to a mere business unit, she said…’
The DOJ is in disarray and warrants an investigation and overhaul; a degreasing the palm and soil change.
And from confidential interviews with hard working and concerned DOJ employees, they would welcome scrutiny from an outside source given the power to ensure that whistleblowers would be protected from any retaliation.
People are petrified of speaking up in this State. And with good reason.
Like the Chief Justice, these public servants are worried that within the Justice system, human beings are relegated to mere case numbers and that the process is dehumanising.
There are also concerns that employees are not being promoted on merit.
There is an attitude in some pockets of the DOJ that their sole purpose is to attend to the judiciary and practitioners, rather than to equally attend to the general public. Houses of Justice belong to all.
The other week, Ian Gray, our Chief Magistrate incurred the wrath of police prosecutors when he made a statement decrying their abilities in criminal cases.
Would that be the very same Chief Magistrate who seemingly couldn't care less about what Magistrates like Braun are doing and saying in his Courts? Yep.
eople who live in Class Houses ... et cetera.
Well, Gray crossed the thin blue line with the police prosecutors and their union issued a retaliatory statement. They were not impressed.
I've listened to both sides of the story — and each have legitimate grievances.
The whole notion of due process has become trashed and degraded and needs to be enforced and restored.
Who can forget the debacle last year when it was revealed that for years Victoria Police had been presenting unsworn affidavits in court.
Near enough has become good enough. Near enough should never find a haven in the portals of Justice. We can never afford to lower that bar. As a community we have to daily renew our vows to her and to work together to ensure that those who stand before her are treated equally.
These days, one is considered a fanciful fool to think such things, let alone utter them in public. So be it.
Look closely at the shameless spin, double standard and hypocrisy of the DOJ reflected in The Age'sarticle.
‘Government and court representatives have declined to comment on any specific threats received, whom they were directed against or what action has been taken in response, citing security concerns."
‘A court spokeswoman said authorities were concerned that publicity about the issue could generate even more threats, likening the situation to the official silence that often surrounds the reporting of suicides.’
So what does the DOJ do? Pinpoint an 'incident' that is well and truly in the public domain — in what has become known as ' The Matt Norman versus the National Australia Bank' case.
However, the DOJ has the audacity to misrepresent the circumstances to favour the Judge and court practitioners.
The Age refers to
'.. a menacing letter sent to the judge presiding over a home foreclosure case in the Supreme Court.
'In January, a foreclosure-related hearing in the Supreme Court was disrupted when a justice received an anonymous letter accusing him of taking secret oaths and ''selling his soul'' to the ''illuminati'' who run the ''New World Order".'
The only disruption in the proceedings held in Number 10 Practice Court on January the 19th was caused by His Honour Justice Judd when he obviously had a senior’s moment and thought he was a judge on Dancing With The Stars.
His Honour seemed oblivious to any notion of the presumption of innocence and singled out Matt Norman from the packed courtroom to ask him if he'd sent him (the Judge) a letter — a shocking accusation to make in a public courtroom out of the blue, let alone to a litigant in person struggling to represent himself in Court against the legal behemoth and unmitigated bully that is the National Australia Bank.
Norman strenuously denied sending Justice Judd the letter.
The letter has been preposterously described as "menacing" in The Age.
It certainly was not.
On January 20th, Independent Australia published that same letter in full.
Here it is again, so that you can judge for yourselves:
I was in court that day supporting Matt and his wife Rebecca, taking notes and filming for my own documentary and investigations as well as filing a report for Independent Australia.
You will note that the so-called 'menacing' letter is dated January 13. Matt's Court appearance was not until six days later.
I fail to understand why His Honour and Supreme Court Security personnel did not immediately contact the police if they thought the letter was 'menacing'.
What attempt was made to trace the origin of the letter?
Why place the safety of the Judge in jeopardy for almost a week?
It was, in fact, His Honour who 'disrupted' the court — not Matt.
And as a specialist in crisis management who, incidentally, had written to the Chief Magistrate several years ago concerned about the lapses in security in our courts, I consider his Honour's action irresponsible, as well as unconscionable, given that Matt is a litigant in person.
Was it His Honour's idea to present the letter in court? Or was he advised by court staff to 'handle' the letter this way? Was His Honour manipulated in any way by other parties?
All justifiable questions under the circumstances.
If Justice Judd thought Norman sent the letter, why did he seem to have little regard for the safety of the packed courtroom of supporters and single out Norman and challenge him over the letter?
Something's not quite right here.
I am concerned that the letter may be a concoction sent to the Judge to deliberately besmirch Norman's character and perhaps to goad him into breaking down.
Whilst in no-way am I suggesting His Honour had anything to do with such a thing, I certainly believe that the Department of Justice should investigate why His Honour 'disrupted' the Court in this manner and himself created the 'incident'.
Norman has made no secret of the fact that he is bipolar. There are judges, lawyers, journalists and doctors who are bipolar. According to one bipolar website, close to 239,000 Australians have the condition.
But wait, there's much more, and before I tell you about it, let's go back to the telling article in The Age and this paragraph in particular:
‘A protective services officer, who regularly works in the court system and who asked to remain anonymous, said that serious threats against courts or judicial officers were almost unheard of. '[But] if you mean clients verbally threatening police, PSOs and private security, it is a daily occurrence,'' he said.’
But what happens when clients are threatened by security personnel, or police, protective services officers, or private security?
Does the DOJ report reveal what happened to the Normans IN the courtroom?
Just before His Honour walked into the court, the Chief of Security for the Supreme Court, Graeme Spurr, went up to Rebecca and Matt and delivered a threatening message on behalf of Sydney lawyer Kevin Pringle’, of Gadens Lawyers, for the National Australia Bank.
What on earth is going on in our courts?
And why did Kevin Pringle in the Sydney office of Gadens interfere in a case supposedly being run by the Melbourne office of Gadens?
Did the Department of Justice investigate this outrageous conduct, breach of security and intimidation by Spurr and Pringle and the NAB?
When Matt Norman told Justice Judd what Spurr had done, and how he and his wife had been threatened, His Honour's odd response was to vigorously question Norman about a letter.
It seemed to me that His Honour was seeking to discredit Norman before his supporters (some of whom had travelled from West Australia) by disregarding Spurr's outrageous behaviour.
The episode had the hallmarks of a stunt.
Did the DOJ question His Honour as to why he did nothing about Spurr's conduct and why he allowed the case to continue as if nothing had happened?
Now, in relation to the remark in The Age article attributed to the court spokeswoman, that authorities were concerned that publicity about the issue could generate more threats, likening the situation to the 'official silence that often surrounds the reporting of suicides' — I'm not sure where she got her information from, but I'd like to draw her attention to an article about the tragedy of suicide by train, in yesterday's online The Age by Mex Cooper quoting former Australian of the Year psychiatrist Professor Patrick McGorry, a director of the National Youth Mental Health Foundation (headspace) welcoming
‘recently updated media guidelines on suicide reporting. They are part of the government-backed Mindframe mental health initiative.
‘Professor McGorry said a taboo on discussing suicide meant many Australians were unaware more people died as a result of suicide than in road accidents.’
We have the right to know if our courts are unsafe — for practitioners and non-practitioners alike.
It is time that the Department of Justice commissioned an independent inquiry to investigate the incidence of illness, self-harm and suicide attributed to matters dealt with by the Department of Justice.
There should be a proper forensic investigation into threats and violence and intimidation within our court system and any attempt to pervert the course of Justice — regardless from what side of the bench it emanates.
Without fear. And without favour.
(The number for Lifeline is 13 11 14. Please remember, there is no shame in seeking help.)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License