Judge takes flak for 17-hour judgment reading

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New South Wales’ highest court has panned a Sydney judge for his 17-hour-long judgment reading that unnecessarily cost taxpayers money.

District Court Judge Garry Neilson delivered his 138-page judgment while sitting in court over the span of four days, for a negligence case that was heard for six days. The case was about a man who sued for damages after he fell off a horse that bucked when a car drove by. Neilson awarded the man nearly $340,000 for the “motor accident,” a judgment which was overturned.  

Justice Ruth McColl, the Court of Appeal’s acting president, said that there was no explanation either in the hearing’s transcript, or Neilson’s reasons, why the judge delivered the judgment in court, “rather than, as is customary with a judgment of such length, handing down written reasons.”

McColl said that not all members of the judiciary have access to the same resources, and that some instances required reading a judgment of such length, but “nothing on the face of these proceedings indicated any such necessity.”

“It is difficult … to justify the utilisation of judicial resources, court resources, let alone the costs burden imposed on the parties, and the time lost to the legal practitioners present in court by this exercise,” she said.

Justice Mark Leeming said that the judgment reading may set a modern record. He said that two centuries ago, all judgments were delivered orally. However, the tradition was “in the process of being substantially eroded” a century later.

He said that there have been more modern instances where judgments were delivered over several days, but those decisions were either “highly controversial” or “of the first order of importance in private law and constitutional law.”

“Until I encountered this appeal, I was unaware that there were modern counterparts,” Leeming said, adding that the case, while important to the litigants, “falls into an entirely different category.”

Leeming also said that the exceptionally long judgment delivery “appears not to be an isolated case” as Neilson had also read judgments over three or four days in June, September, and October 2015.

Neilson previously made headlines after comments comparing incest and paedophilia to gay sex, which was socially and criminally unacceptable half a century ago. In 2014, he was referred to the Judicial Commission, which found in 2015 that the judge must no longer hear cases involving sex crimes.

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