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NSW magistrate with mental illness fights for career
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NSW magistrate with mental illness fights for career

Magistrate Jennifer Betts appeared before the NSW Parliament yesterday (15 June) in a bid to save her career.Betts addressed the NSW Legislative Council to show cause why she should not be…

Magistrate Jennifer Betts appeared before the NSW Parliament yesterday (15 June) in a bid to save her career.

Betts addressed the NSW Legislative Council to show cause why she should not be dismissed from the bench after the NSW Judicial Commission reported that it had received four complaints about her conduct between 2003 and 2009.

In an emotional speech lasting nearly an hour, Betts cited her decision to stop taking medication for depression in late 2008 - a period encompassing two of the four complaints - as an explanation for her behaviour and to defend accusations that she had prejudged those cases.

"In reality, all judicial officers are at risk of succumbing to the stresses of judicial office, not just those who suffer from a medical condition such as depression," Betts told Parliament, as reported by the ABC. "Those of us who have had such a condition should not be discriminated against because of it."

Betts reiterated that her behaviour did not result in any miscarriage of justice and that she is now "fit for duty". She has been a magistrate since 1994, serving at a range of district courts throughout Sydney and NSW during the course of her career.

Betts was only the second magistrate in the history of NSW Parliament to be invited to speak about why they should not be sacked.

Next week, Magistrate Brian Maloney, who suffers from bipolar disorder, will also address NSW Parliament to show cause why he should not be dismissed.

The NSW Supreme Court recently upheld a NSW Judicial Commission finding that he was "incapacitated" for the job.

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has said that the fate of both magistrates will be decided by a conscience vote in both the NSW Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly. He has previously expressed concern about Maloney not being penalised for having a disability.

Former judge Frank Walker, who was the NSW attorney-general from 1976 to 1983, has written to all state MPs asking them to show compassion when voting on the fate of both judicial officers.

Walker is the current president of the Schizophrenia Fellowship NSW. His two sons suffered from schizophrenia and committed suicide.

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