THE NSW body that handles complaints against judicial officers has backed Justice Michael Adams against Federal Government calls for the judge to be disciplined.
Justice Adams ruled that two Australian secret service agents had kidnapped and falsely imprisoned Sydney doctorIzhar ul-Haque, a student at the time, on trumped-up terrorism charges.
Chief executive of the NSW Judicial Commission, Ernie Schmatt, told Lawyers Weekly that in fact no formal complaint has been received about the judge. He said the commission received a letter from the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department. “It wasn’t a formal complaint and I made a response to that inquiry from the department. The response was really a matter between me and the person I communicated with.”
Media reports have stated that head of the federal Attorney-General’s Department, Robert Cornall, had made a formal complaint to the judicial commission, but both Cornell and now Schmatt have denied this. Both state that Cornell had made an inquiry of Schmatt as CEO of the commission, who then responded.
“What it boiled down to was that there was a letter from the [Attorney-General] to me as the chief executive of the commission. That was really the end of it. As you would appreciate, there are provisions within the Judicial Officers Act for the making of complaints but those are formal procedures that have to be followed in accordance with the legislation,” said Schmatt.
The letter from Schmatt has been leaked and extracts from it have been published by the Sydney Morning Herald. Schmatt refuses to comment on the content of the letter, which states that Justice Adams had acted within his rights in ruling that the detention of Dr ul-Haque and interviews carried out by the two unnamed Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) officers had been improper and illegal.
Schmatt’s response to the government is the latest in a series of blows to the ASIO and the Australian Federal Police over what have been labelled heavy-handed methods used to deal with suspects.
The Justice Adams ruling caused the case against Dr ul-Haque to collapse, and he was freed after being held in detention for more than three years.
ASIO director-general, Paul O’Sullivan, complained late last year that the agents had not had a chance to rebut the charges. But the two ASIO officers had in fact given evidence to Justice Adams, who found their testimony unconvincing and, at times, untruthful, Fairfax reports.