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Lawyers hit back at politician’s ‘unfair’, inaccurate criticism of WA magistrate

Lawyers have slated comments made by a politician about a magistrate’s bail decision as both unfair and inappropriate.

user iconNaomi Neilson 21 February 2024 Big Law
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Western Australia’s Corrective Services Minister, Paul Papalia, said it was an “absolute failure” of the magistrate, Wendy Hughes, to not impose specific penalties on a 17-year-old boy who pleaded guilty to assault.

The boy, whose name has been protected for legal reasons, was instead given a 12-month sentence, with Ms Hughes noting he had been trapped in a “vicious cycle” within the justice system.

Mr Papalia told the media there were “no consequences” for the boy.


“And the community was also failed because their safety is not being considered in this process,” Mr Papalia added.

Asked several days later if he stood by his comments, Mr Papalia said his “opinion has not changed” and it was “fundamental and reasonable” to expect the boy to be handed a harsher penalty.

Barrister Tom Percy KC, on behalf of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA), said Mr Papalia’s comments “only serve to undermine public confidence in the judiciary, the rule of law and the very foundation of our democratic system of government”.

“They were neither warranted nor accurate,” Mr Percy added.

One of the major criticisms of Mr Papalia’s comments was he had made them without being “armed with the facts, the law and what transpired” within Ms Hughes’ courtroom.

Shash Nigam, also with the ALA, said judicial officers “take great care in providing detailed reasons for their decisions”.

“Judicial officers must be free to do their job and exercise judgment, without political interference,” Mr Nigam added.

“The Parliament makes the laws, and the court interprets them.”

Also critical of Mr Papalia, Justice Michael Walton, president of the Australian Judicial Officers Association, said it is critical judges and magistrates do their jobs “independently and without fear of favour”.

“[Mr Papalia’s] unfair and misguided criticism of the magistrate undermines those principles, as they may be viewed as attempts by a member of the legislature to pressure a member of the judiciary about the manner in which they apply the law,” Justice Walton said.

“Magistrates and judges are not beyond criticism, but they should not be expected to endure unfair and misguided commentary, to which they cannot respond, which undermines their independence.”

In December last year, Mr Papalia made similar comments about a magistrate who found a 10-year-old boy was unable to understand what he did wrong when he led police on a dangerous car chase.

Mr Papalia said it sent a “bad message” and there should have been more “serious consequences” for the boy.

At the time, Law Society of Western Australia then president Ante Golem said the comments exposed the public “to criticism of a member of the judiciary by another arm of government”, which had the effect of “undermining the public confidence in the administration of justice”.

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