Chief Justice appointment draws resignation and anger

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The appointment of Judge Tim Carmody as Queensland’s next Chief Justice has been anything but smooth: Legal representatives have publicly questioned the decision, and the president of the Bar Association of Queensland has just announced his resignation.

Last Thursday evening the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie announced the appointment of Queensland’s eighteenth Chief Justice despite public figures previously warning against the decision.

Carmody, originally a meat packer and a police officer, was admitted to the bar in 1982, Bleijie said in his announcement.

He was Queensland’s crime commissioner from 1998 to 2002, and in 2003 was awarded the Centenary Medal for distinguished service to law and community. He served as a Judge of the Family Court between 2003 to 2008.

Carmody then headed the Child Protection Commission of Inquiry, before being appointed Queensland’s Chief Magistrate last year.

But prior his latest appointment, several public figures including Queensland’s former Solicitor-General Walter Sofronoff warned against his suitability for the role of Chief Justice.

In an opinion piece that appeared in Brisbane’s The Courier Mail, Sofronoff questioned the impartiality of the Judge’s relationship with Attorney-General Bleijie.

“He is now seen by many reasonable people as political. Yet one vital hallmark of a Supreme Court judge, of any judge, is impartiality and this requires an absolute abstention from politics,” Sofronoff wrote.

“Moreover, as a result of his own actions, Judge Carmody’s appointment from Chief Magistrate to the highest judicial office in the State may be seen by many reasonable people as a reward for apparent political loyalty rather than on merit and, therefore, as a corrosion of the impartiality and independence of the Supreme Court and the public’s confidence in it.

“Since the Attorney General does not have the insight to do so, Judge Carmody should himself quell this present unfortunate and unhealthy speculation about him by stating forthrightly that he would not accept an appointment to the office of Chief Justice if it were offered to him. He would, thereby, instantly gain the respect of his colleagues, including me.”

A truly suitable Chief Justice must have long and successful experience in practice as well as the confidence of the court and the profession, Sofronoff said.
But a few days later, and Bleijie made the announcement.

“Judge Carmody’s professional and life experience is both distinguished and diverse,” he said. “His Honour has the keen legal knowledge, administrative skills and integrity that are essential qualities for the role of Chief Justice.”

In his acceptance of the role, Carmody stressed his independence, and said that fair, objective and independent justice is an integral part of democracy.

“I will do my utmost to perform the duties of this high office in a progressive manner, while ensuring that [the] foundation remains rock solid…I will work hard every day to prove worthy of the public’s trust in me.”

The next day in response to the appointment, the president of the Bar Association of Queensland, Peter Davis QC, announced his resignation.

In a letter to the association, he detailed a series of the events which preceded the appointment and his decision to resign.

“My concern is with the process that resulted in the appointment,” he said. “The Government has said that they consulted widely on [it]. My sense though is that there was little, if any, support for the appointment within the legal profession and little, or none, within the ranks of sitting Supreme Court judges. Senior figures have warned against the appointment and some have spoken out against it since its announcement.”

In concluding the letter, Davis wrote that the Bar Association should be involved in the process of appointment of judges and because that didn’t happen he has no faith in the integrity of the process and won’t engage in it further.

“I have been honoured to lead you,” he finished.

Following Davis’ resignation, Ian Brown, the president of the Queensland Law Society responded by writing a letter to his members calling for the preservation of confidence in the system of justice.

“While I cannot and will not comment on the alleged actions of particular individuals, the independence of the profession must be fiercely maintained,” he said. “We will resist, clearly and unequivocally, any attempts to compromise that independence.”
  • Greg Morahan on 18/06/2014 12:30:01 PM

    As a former meat packer and police officer, followed by varied and distinguished appointments, Carmody appears to bring a breadth of life experience to the job that many barristers would lack. Being a lawyer all or most of one's life doesn't necessarily make one a good Judge.

  • Daniel on 18/06/2014 10:43:37 AM

    Einfeld and Murphy were appointed some twenty-eight and thirty-eight years ago respectively. I would imagine that, if their appointments were contrary to the advice from the bar and law society (although I note that they were both federal) there would have been some controversy. I would love to comment on the uproar or otherwise, but I was not even alive at that point. Do you have anymore relevant examples? H.V. Evatt doesn't count...

  • Murphy and Einfeld, anyone? on 16/06/2014 11:13:42 AM

    Yet strangely, when clearly partisan left-wingers get appointed to senior judicial roles, they are praised for their 'compassion' and 'commitment' rather than being condemned for bias, and conservatives are meant to just suck it up...

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