Magistrate in hot water over talkback radio comments

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Comments made by NSW magistrate David Degnan in a call to talkback radio has landed him in hot water and may lead to defendants claiming bias as they appear in his court.

According to ABC Australia, they have identified a formerly-unnamed caller to Robbie Buck's Breakfast program on 702 ABC Sydney in February as sitting magistrate David Degnan.

The comments he made which has raised eyebrows in his field are particularly about Aborigines.

“By the time people are sent to jail they are nearly always recidivists,” the magistrate said in his call. “Jail is always a last resort, so this idea that jails don't work, I'm sorry, they do because they lock people up that don't get the message.”

Degnan initially denied making the call and had no comment when reached, the ABC reported, but has since admitted at a Sydney dinner to other magistrates and lawyers that he was the caller.
Degnan, in his call, also said: “This thing about Aboriginal people in custody, they're committing the offences.”

He maintained that nobody is trying to target Aborigines, but they are in jail because they have committed offences.

"Most of the people that do offend, they've been given bonds, they've been sent to different programs, they've had supervision, but they don't seem to get the message. And then eventually, yes, they'll end up in jail," he said.

These comments may lead to an increase of people claiming bias in the magistrate’s court, ABC reported.

“I'd be surprised if there hasn't already been applications made to him to recuse himself on the basis of views he's expressed,” retired District Court judge John Nicholson SC said.

“There may be some Aboriginal people who would be uncomfortable coming before a judicial officer who had expressed opinions in respect of Aborigines are therefore committing offences,” he added.
Nicholson also said that the magistrate may see people fearing he won’t have a balanced judicial decision in their cases.
  • BH on 15/07/2016 6:46:08 PM

    How funny - no comments from the legal profession about obvious bias displayed by Magistrates? We ran a case on behalf of an evicted tenant where it was so obvious that the Magistrate was a wealthy property owner with no sympathies for tenants, even the barristers on both sides exchanged glances of disbelief at the lengths she went to avoid precedent. She kept us waiting around for a whole day while she decided on an issue estoppel that neither side had raised. Then, when our client won the substantive case and we presented her with a calderbank offer to support a claim for indemnity costs, she exercised her discretion to deny us that just because she 'felt' the case should never have been brought. None of her decisions had anything to do with law or precedent. I think this is what we mean when we say that the law only serves the wealthy and the propertied classes. Here is a magistrate that, despite all the education in the world, fails to understand the history of racism, slavery and abuse that has destroyed our Aboriginal communities - a history they are yet to be free from because it is still being denied by this country. If you understood that history, you would know that further incarceration simply cannot be the answer. This argument - that black people must be taught a lesson because they keep offending - was the excuse given for putting Nelson Mandela in gaol. Apartheid lives on, Australia and this is what it looks like.

  • Simon Munslow on 14/07/2016 4:08:37 PM

    The tragedy is, he is right. Why does the trendy left say you are biased when you simply state the truth?

    Why do many young Aborigines view going to gaol as more of a right of passage than getting an education?

    Does teaching Aboriginal children in NSW that they were 'invaded' contribute to the problem.

    Since the 1970's we have thrown disproportionate sums of money at Aboriginal education at Primary, Secondary and High School levels.

    Aborigines who desire a tertiary education can receive more money from Centrelink than a non Aboriginal student, and will likely find a University will dispense with stringent entry requirements and will provide any assistance they can to help an Aboriginal get through a course.

    There are also specifically targeted, generous scholarships that exist to encourage Aboriginal students.

    Sadly this appears not to be working, and there seems to be no reduction in Aborigines going to gaol.

    Aboriginal Elders who I know, despair, as much of the crime that leads to Aboriginal incarceration are violent assaults by Aborigines upon Aborigines.

    Is there a solution?, what is it?

    We need to have a serious dialogue about this, and it is not assisted by the trendy left wielding the race card as soon as anyone acknowledges that there is a problem.

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