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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Dropped pants, slow justice and head scratching


Television personality Lisa Wilkinson is appealing the adverse findings made by Justice Michael Lee in the Lehrmann v Channel 10 and Wilkinson defamation case. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas).

“The draft report was sent to affected parties in early November, which means the ‘investigation’ took 16 months… If the Integrity Commission is short of the expertise and funds to conduct timely inquiries then it should say so,” writes legal columnist HUGH SELBY

This is a column about four little happenings that raise issues not mentioned in mainstream media, but cause some head scratching. 

Hugh Selby.

Local solicitor Ben Aulich has been reprimanded and fined $20,000 after action taken against him by the Law Society. The decision is here. The fine was within the range proposed by his lawyers, but less than that suggested by the Law Society.

We everyday folk would regard $20K as one hell of a thumping. It requires much time and effort to acquire it.

What heinous act deserved this response? At a law firm weekend retreat, as part of a drinking game he drew a card that required him to remove his pants. He did, but his reproductive equipment remained out of sight, being appropriately concealed by underwear – possibly high fashion, possibly not.

Someone was offended. Apparently, we should be, too.

I guess when I go to the beach in future I shall be careful to take my jeans off in the car so that I get out and about in my Speedos and cause no possible offence to anyone. Those lawyers (of whatever gender) who wear tight swim wear because they have, or think they have, great body shape should now be careful that there is no one around who might be affronted by what they choose to stare at. 

BUT at nearly 30 pages, this ACAT decision (which I expect will become a source of amusement in the English-speaking world) is a minnow by comparison to the Integrity Commission’s 277-page Special Report (plus attachments) on the corrupt conduct of the now former CIT CEO Leanne Cover

Commissioner Michael Adams KC found a breach of a duty of disclosure to the CIT Board and that the “concealment” was intentional to reduce the risk that various transactions may have been disapproved. 

All well and good, but why did it take two years to reach this conclusion? Why wasn’t this conclusion, as distinct from other issues about procurement, resolved within – at most – a few months? 

The draft report – which is limited to the actions of the CEO and board chair – was sent to affected parties in early November, which means the “investigation” took 16 months. During that time the CEO, though suspended, is reported to have been on full pay. Who wouldn’t enjoy that much to do nothing?

If the Integrity Commission is short of the expertise and funds to conduct timely inquiries then it should say so. The report states that more than three million documents have been produced for this inquiry into aspects of the CIT. That’s a mind boggling number. How many of them are relevant?

Readers will recall my criticism of the Integrity Commission’s decision to investigate Walter Sofronoff KC’s decision to give embargoed copies of his report to two journalists. 

I saw and see no aspect of corruption in that action. I was delighted to read in this report: “The (Integrity Commission) Act… exhibits the requirement that ‘corrupt conduct’ connotes moral turpitude or want of probity, which is congruent with the meaning of ‘corrupt in common parlance’.” 

As the commission has not finished its inquiry into the contract for the Campbell Primary renovation, and as it has much to do to complete this CIT probe, it would be sensible to avoid chasing phantoms – the more so when the Sofronoff Inquiry was so quickly and competently completed.

A “QUICK resolution” was not something available this past dozen years or so for Julian Assange

When it did resolve this past week it was superbly managed and choreographed. Sentencing Mr Assange to the time he had served in the UK, putting it about that he could apply for a presidential pardon, having as minders a former cabinet minister and former prime minister, delivering him to Canberra – all of this was reminiscent of a medieval tapestry depicting the saving of a repentant sinner. 

Truly awesome, as was the little detail of knowing in advance what was the likely sentence to be imposed by the US judicial officer, knowing that air travel home from Saipan could be booked with certainty.

There was a plea agreement. Her Honour was prepared to accept it and she said why. Heaven forbid that in this country we ever have sentencing where there is even a whiff of a predetermined outcome. 

AT least the Saipan judge had the advantage of being assisted by lawyers for both sides. That may not be the situation faced by an appellate bench of three Federal Court judges hearing Lisa Wilkinson’s appeal from the adverse findings made by Justice Michael Lee in the Lehrmann v Channel 10 and Wilkinson defamation case.

Do either Channel 10 or Bruce Lehrmann have any interest in opposing Ms Wilkinson’s claims? If not, who – in our adversarial system – will stand up for Justice Lee’s reasoning? 

Neither the legislation nor the rules provide for the court to appoint a “contradictor”, that being a person who can assist the court with a contrary argument. There’s a gap in the law and it needs to be fixed by the parliaments.

Former barrister Hugh Selby’s free podcasts on “Witness Essentials” and “Advocacy in court: preparation and performance” can be heard on the best known podcast sites.

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Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Hugh Selby

Hugh Selby

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