By Joan Evatt
@NoFibs legal writer
May 13, 2013
The last time I entered a courtroom, nearly 28 years ago, I was so heavily pregnant I waddled rather than walked. I was a character witness for a work colleague discovered driving without a licence. On that occasion I exchanged heated words with the Prosecutor, a pompous prat with a Jimmy Edwards handlebar moustache, much to the amusement of the judge and a bunch of law undergraduates. With my last name it is always difficult to have anything to do with the law, as assumptions will be made. So it was with a certain concern mixed with caution when I decided to follow the Ashby v Slipper appeal.
I have long been frustrated by the quality of the dailies’ coverage of legal matters. My frustration was underscored by the media’s serious misunderstanding of issues and decisions at the directions hearing before Emmett J. I decided to do that ‘mother’ thing. You know: ‘If you can’t get somebody to do it right, go do it yourself and stop complaining.’
Throughout the recent hearing dates in the Ashby v Slipper appeal certain key matters constantly gnawed at my gizzards. I wanted to vent because I believe them to be of critical importance.
The media’s incompetence raised two critical issues, which are fundamental to law and the practice of law in this country, and more importantly, the effectiveness of the administration of justice.
Unbeknownst to me, I wasn’t the only one doing handstands on Wednesday trying to get my hands on the written submissions of the three parties; Harmer, Ashby and Slipper. The written submissions outline the key areas that each of the three lawyers would talk to during the two days of hearing. To not be able to read written submission at the very least means you are walking cold into a case and will find it impossibly difficult to follow.
On Thursday – day one of the hearing – I discovered David Marr who was without written submissions as well. He toddled downstairs to the Registry while I went to work on the legal representatives to see if I could acquire the submissions for perusal. To give all parties their due they had no problem with sending and giving us their submissions. For that I’m very grateful to Michael Lee SC (Ashby’s barrister), Anthony McClellan, from AMC MEDIA – (the well known Public Relations firm working for both Mr Ashby and Mr Harmer) – and to Peter Slipper’s barrister Mr Ian Neil who gave us the submissions immediately. It wasn’t until the next day that their Honours let it be known that written submission would be placed online for our access.
The judiciary and the legal fraternity cannot have it both ways when it comes to being critical of the quality of mainstream media coverage of the courts. Just as judges and lawyers have to do their homework before going into court to either hear or present a case, so does the media. For journalists to cover a case cold does the parties and the system a disservice. Is it any wonder then that the reports written by journalists with difficult deadlines become more error-prone? A journalist’s role is a critical one to a justice system where open justice prevails.
There are three principles that form part of the justice foundation stone that underpins any functioning democratic society. The first is the independence of the judiciary from interference, and especially political interference, known under the banner headline as the separation of powers; a principle enshrined in our constitution. Read the rest of this entry »