SOME OF THE nation’s leading legal professionals have vigorously defended the right of judges to attend a recent conference in Paris, claiming it is “perfectly proper and legal for judges to expend allowances on these types of conferences and trips”.
Reports in the major press last week questioned the recent trip to the City of Light. But New South Wales Bar Association president Ian Harrison SC said this week that “as a matter of principle, what needs to be understood is that interaction between any groups of professionals, be they judges or lawyers or architects or plumbers or doctors … is generally productive of the exchange of ideas and information to the betterment of the people they serve”.
Federal Court Chief Justice Michael Black was last week in Paris for a five-day conference on the subject of court architecture and judicial rituals. With him were peers Queensland Supreme Court Justice Paul de Jersey, Victorian Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, and other leading Australian judges.
Harrison rejected suggestions by some newspapers that the judicial line-up is on a taxpayer-funded holiday. “I know it is popular for papers to run articles critical of judges upon the basis that they are getting something at ‘the taxpayers’ expense’, but the fact of the matter is that the parliaments of the states and of the Commonwealth have made it perfectly proper and legal for judges to expend allowances on these types of conferences and trips and, as long as that remains the case, the judges are and must remain beyond criticism.
“I think it’s inadvisable to criticise these meetings between, in this case, judges simply upon the basis that it makes a good story, without having regard to the importance that they inform themselves by overseas trips at conferences and the like, if it is likely to have that result.
“If we become, in the case of judges, particularly insular and isolated in the sort of influences that we permit them to become exposed to and to which they are, according to their salaries and benefits entitled, then we run the risk of reducing the pool of information available to them,” Harrison told Lawyers Weekly.
Harrison SC has previously defended the right of judges to avoid the “wicked agenda” of journalists. Speaking to the Supreme Court earlier this year on behalf of the Bar, he commented on the fashion in the “so-called popular press publicly to assail judges in this state and throughout the country”. This fashion is urged by “an unrepresentative coven of journalists with a wicked agenda”. Harrison SC said that judges’ scrutiny could be avoided by “working seven days a week, accepting no pay, taking no holidays and never making the slightest mistake whether on or off the bench. Overseas travel should be avoided, if at all possible”.