Reformers in limbo

by Chris Griffith
Published 28 June 1992 in The Sun-Herald


my face


The megalomaniacs and egomaniacs are on the rampage.

So nose-out-of-joint are some so-called bright boys of Queensland's legal profession, the state is being dragged towards its fifth inquiry into issues involving Newnham, Chesterman, and Bingham.

There may be three matches in a state-of-origin series, but in this case some lawyers, want a series of five in this rubber.

Last week the Parliamentary Criminal Justice Committee (PCJC) conducted its public hearing into Richard Chesterman QC's claim that Sir Max Bingham's alleged friendship with Mr Newnham had influenced the Commission's conduct at the appeal.

Central is the accusation the CJC made no submission that the case should be returned to the Misconduct Tribunal once Justice Moynihan had decided Mr Chesterman's decision contained an error in law.

The accusers say Mr Chesterman's tribunal could have corrected the error and possibly even re-established misconduct.

However Mr Newnham's lawyer, Mr John Robertson, told the PCJC it would have been impossible to do this. He said Mr Newnham won the appeal on the legal point Mr Chesterman had failed to examine or find whether Mr Newnham's action constituted a disciplinary breach of police regulations.

Not only had Mr Chesterman failed to examine this - there was simply no disciplinary breach that fitted what Mr Newnham had done.

Given this, Justice Moynihan found it "not an unreasonable attitude" to set aside Mr Chesterman's decision.

Of course, the likes of Mr Chesterman, Mr Douglas QC, and Mr Rinaudo cannot accept this. They say it is wrong the CJC did not oppose Robertson's position after the Judge had indicated, the previous Friday, that he agreed with what Robertson had proposed.

Yet the CJC's position is reasonable given it was Moynihan J, and not the CJC, that set the course of events leading to Mr Newnham's acquittal.

Of course, it is laudable that the Bar Association and the Law Society take an active interest in the Fitzgerald reform process by paying attention to these matters of law.

However what sticks in the gut is the selectivity of the issues on which they are passionate.

Where, for example, was the Bar Association when Mr Beattie's PCJC asked for submissions on changes to the same CJC Act they now describe as defective. Nowhere! They did not tender a submission.

As for the Law Society - it may be commendable that it jump up and down about the $2,102 Mr Newnham did not refund until he was asked for it.

However this same Law Society, so steamed up about $2,102, thought it alright that taxpayers compensate victims defrauded by one of its members to the tune of $3 million.

Attorney-General Dean Wells was fuming when the Society decided against reimbursing these victims from its Fidelity Guarantee fund, established especially for this purpose.

The truth is the CJC is an institution that treads on the toes of all other Queensland institutions - police, politicians, the legal profession, the Queensland media, to name a few.

The truth is only blind Freddy would believe those calling for a Royal Commission are motivated totally by altruistic concerns.

The CJC is the new kid on the Queensland block that no other institution wants. These institutions are now pumping out poisoned-pen letters to kill off the Commission.

The question, therefore, is whether there is a genuine crisis in the public confidence's in the CJC (a justifiable ground for a Royal Commission), or whether the crisis is being manufactured by those who have a grudge to bear and a political agenda of their own.

These include politicians exposed in the travel rorts report, barristers who represent clients before misconduct tribunals or whose clients have been convicted thanks to the CJC's work, and, of course, those police ever desperate to bring down Mr Newnham.

There is also the Government. While officially it stands on the side- lines, a government officer last week leaked confidential Crown Solicitor's advice to the media that was favourable to Mr Chesterman.

The Government may have dissociated itself from this leaking, but, of course, even ONE investigation into this is unlikely, let alone five.

And neither the Government, the Law Society, nor the Bar Association are clamouring for even ONE investigation into the leaking of information from the Commissioner's office, as exposed in the Lowenthal report. Strange about that.