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WA judge accused of bias, ‘overwhelmingly’ preferring party

A West Australian woman accused a District Court judge of bias over her connection with a family member’s business activities.

user iconNaomi Neilson 25 January 2024 Big Law
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As part of her sensational allegations of negligence against her former law firm, M6:8 Legal, Gabrielle Prichard accused Judge Troy Sweeney of a reasonable apprehension of bias due to her brother’s distant and former professional relationship with the opposing lawyer.

Ms Prichard told the Supreme Court of Western Australia that Judge Sweeney’s brother had been a director and shareholder of MDS Legal, the firm representing M6:8 Legal, until 2011 and had been a partner of a firm that sold its business to MDS Legal in 2007.

MDS Legal’s director, Ashley Macknay, had also been a shareholder and director and worked at the former firm alongside the brother, but there has been no ongoing association since the early 2010s.


Supreme Court Justice Robert Mitchell said there was “no reasonable basis” for Ms Prichard to make the claim of bias, given there is “no evidence that MDS had any financial interest in the outcome” of her proceedings against M6:8 Legal.

“There is no rational basis on which a properly informed lay observer might apprehend that the long past professional association between the primary judge’s brother and the respondent’s solicitor might divert the judge from the course of deciding the case on its merits,” he said.

Ms Prichard also accused Judge Sweeney of “overwhelmingly favouring” M6:8 Legal, but Justice Mitchell said there is nothing in the way Judge Sweeney conducted the case that “could possibly give rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias”.

Ms Prichard engaged M6:8 Legal to assist with a dispute between herself and her siblings over their father’s estate.

She accused the firm of being negligent in advising her about and formulating a response to an offer made during mediation.

When the parties appeared before the District Court, M6:8 Legal contended evidence of communications in Ms Prichard’s statement of claim should be inadmissible. Judge Sweeney ruled in their favour.

The matter before the Supreme Court was an application by Ms Prichard to seek leave to appeal Judge Sweeney’s decision, but Justice Mitchell refused leave and dismissed the appeal.

“In our view, the correctness of the primary orders is not attended by sufficient doubt to justify the grant of leave to appeal from an interlocutory decision,” Justice Mitchell said.