“Judge shopping” barrister loses jail sentence appeal

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A Sydney barrister, who pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice in 2014 after he was investigated by ICAC for judge shopping, has lost his appeal.

He was sentenced to one year and 10 months in prison, expiring on June 21, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

An inquiry by ICAC found that John Peter Hart gave false evidence about his clients’ addresses to have cases transferred to courts where he regarded the magistrate as more lenient.

“What was done was a form of 'judge-shopping' which has the potential ... to completely undermine the efficient, orderly and transparent administration of justice,” ICAC’s 2010 report stated.

He was caught by a recorded phone call telling a client he’d have a case transferred to Camden Local Court, “I’ve obviously got to check that the right bloke’s at Camden.  So leave it with me”, he said.

At a hearing in March, Hart asked the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal to reduce his sentence on the basis that ICAC had acted outside its powers in investigating him, pointing to Margaret Cunneen’s battle with the corruption watchdog, which narrowed the commission’s powers. 

The Court found that Cunneen could not be investigated by ICAC over allegations she perverted the course of justice because the conduct was not “corrupt conduct”.  Though some examples may have fallen within the definition of corrupt conduct, the NSW Solicitor-General advised that criminal charges should not be laid against her.

Hart argued that as result of the Cunneen decision, the inquiry which lead to the criminal charges against him was illegal, and though he pleaded guilty, there was no lawfully obtained evidence on which to charge him.

“There was no impropriety in what led to [Hart's] admissions and pleas,” said Justice David Davies.

The court added that the laws passed by the NSW Parliament after the Cunneen decision had validated ICAC’s past actions.

“The result is that anything done by the commission that led to the investigation and the subsequent admissions and plea of guilty by [Hart] is taken to be validly done,” the court said.