The legal system has failed to absorb research into the frailty of human memory

The English High Court’s Justice Leggatt (now a judge of the Court of Appeal) was called upon to decide a claim for £14 million in which the plaintiff relied on a contract said to have been entered into at the Horse & Groom public house in Great Portland Street in London.  (Freshfields’ case note is here). In Blue v Ashley [2017] EWHC 1928.  His Honour reiterated earlier comments he had made to the effect that:

‘While everyone knows that memory is fallible, I do not believe that the legal system has sufficiently absorbed the lessons of a century of psychological research into the nature of memory and the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. One of the most important lessons of such research is that in everyday life we are not aware of the extent to which our own and other people’s memories are unreliable and believe our memories to be more faithful than they are. Two common (and related) errors are to suppose: (1) that the stronger and more vivid is our feeling or experience of recollection, the more likely the recollection is to be accurate; and (2) that the more confident another person is in their recollection, the more likely their recollection is to be accurate.’

The modern approach, his Honour essentially said, is to get all the authentic documents and study them carefully and then allow memory only to fill in the gaps.  This is what his Honour said:

Continue reading “The legal system has failed to absorb research into the frailty of human memory”

Appeals from VCAT on the basis of inadequate reasons

A failure to give reasons is an error of law.[1] Seriously inadequate reasons are corrosive of public confidence in the administration of justice and ought not to be tolerated by an appeal court, since justice must not only be done but be seen to be done. This is the first public policy informing the requirement for reasons by courts and court-like tribunals. As the Supreme Court has observed:

‘To have a strong body of evidence put aside without explanation is likely to give rise to a feeling of injustice in the mind of the most reasonable litigant.’[2]

That is especially so in relation to factual determinations where a right of appeal lies only on a question of law. Even more especially so in a quasi-criminal[3] prosecution with serious consequences for the practitioner in which a disciplinary prosecutor carries the burden of proof as described in Briginshaw v Briginshaw. Continue reading “Appeals from VCAT on the basis of inadequate reasons”

2016: not such a good year (part 2: deaths)

The Hon. Alan Goldberg AO, QC, portrait by Jacqueline Mitelman

Lots of unfamous people died horrible deaths last year: see part 1, and more to come. But more than the average number of famous pulses seemed to flatline in 2016. The grim reaper took a few big scalps prematurely: Max Walker at 68, David Bowie at 69, Prince at 47, the Beastie Boys’ John Berry at 52, and George Michael at 53. You could say that Brangelina karked it too.

Then there were the other cultural icons who shuffled off: Continue reading “2016: not such a good year (part 2: deaths)”

Proving a loss for insurance purposes; inadequacy of reasons as an appeal ground

In Kalloghlian v Chubb Insurance Company of Australia Ltd [2016] NSWSC 902 (the Court’s summary is here), a man said he purchased a Rolex in Syria in 2005.  He insured his things with Chubb against loss anywhere in the world.  The policy was described as ‘Deluxe’.  It specifically insured items  which the insured owned as well as things he possessed.  The insured said he lost the watch on Copacabana Beach in July 2014.  The police declined to take a report.  He had no receipt from its purchase.  He could not remember from which jeweller he had purchased it.  He had lost his passport for the period of the trip to Syria.  Chubb declined the claim.  The insured sued.  The Magistrate dismissed the suit.  The insured appealed. The Supreme Court ordered a new trial.

The decision is hardly ground breaking.  But it is simple.  And it is useful to be reminded about the following:

  1.  An insured may prove a loss by giving oral evidence of the loss.  A lack of documentary or other corroboration is not fatal.  It is just something to be assessed in considering whether the plaintiff has satisfied the Court it is more likely than not that he suffered the loss.
  2. That is so even where it is a condition of cover under the policy that the plaintiff provide various proofs of ownership and of loss.  That is because s. 54 of the Insurance Contracts Act 1984 excuses breaches by the insured of policy conditions where the breach cannot have caused the loss, except to the extent of any prejudice to the insurer.
  3. Even busy decision makers in over-worked jurisdictions have to identify controversies raised by the parties which are necessary to determine in order to find for one party or the other, and explain why they resolved those controversies the way they did.  A failure to do so will result in the decision being set aside.  Robert Sheldon QC’s blog keeps an eye on this area of law.  See here and here and here.  The Court’s summary of the obligation in New South Wales to give adequate reasons is set out in full below.
  4. Where the facts are ascertained sufficiently that there is only one correct decision, the appellate tribunal may substitute its decision.  Where, as here, however, it was necessary to take into account how witnesses presented, the appellate tribunal will remit the case to be re-heard, where necessary (as here) by a new decision maker.

The obligation to give proper reasons, especially where there are contests of oral evidence, is an important one and should be jealously guarded.

Continue reading “Proving a loss for insurance purposes; inadequacy of reasons as an appeal ground”

Solicitor’s correspondence with judge telling him how immature his conduct was doesn’t go down well in disciplinary tribunal

Update, 5 October 2016: this decision is under appeal.  See this post.

Original post: In Council of the Law Society of NSW v MAG [2016] NSWCATOD 40, a Sydney solicitor was disciplined for writing a private letter of complaint to a Federal Court judge the day after a decision was handed down, adversely to his client in favour of the Tax Man.  The next day he wrote to the trial judge a letter not copied to the other side which commenced:

‘As solicitor for the Applicant in this matter, I have serious concerns about your conduct and decision in this matter. These are:

1. The somewhat immature and inappropriate comments you made to me …’ Continue reading “Solicitor’s correspondence with judge telling him how immature his conduct was doesn’t go down well in disciplinary tribunal”

WA solicitor’s unilateral communication with judge’s associate was professional misconduct

It may be professional misconduct for a party’s lawyer to communicate with the judge’s associate (or, of course, the judge) without her opponent’s consent if the purpose of the communication is to influence the conduct or outcome of the case: Legal Profession Complaints Committee v NKC [2012] WASAT 77 at [147] et seqIn this solicitor’s case, the disciplinary tribunal said the unilateral communication amounted to ‘a substantial failure to reach the standard of competence and diligence that a member of the public is entitled to expect from a reasonably competent Australian legal practitioner’.

Victorian solicitors’ conduct rules say at r. 18.5

‘A practitioner must not, outside an ex parte application or a hearing of which the opponent has had proper notice, communicate in the opponent’s absence with the court concerning any matter of substance in connection with current proceedings unless:

1. the court has first communicated with the practitioner in such a way as to require the practitioner to respond to the court; or

2. the opponent has consented beforehand to the practitioner communicating with the court in a specific manner notified to the opponent by the practitioner.’

I know of at least one complaint to the Legal Services Commissioner against a Victorian barrister for filing supplementary submissions after the close of argument which was found made out but not prosecuted.  The appropriate response, in the event that this increasingly common wrong is perpetrated against your client is to write and request consent to a reply, and in default of an appropriately timely consent, apply for the relisting of the matter to complain in open court.

The rule was recently reiterated by the Full Federal Court in Comcare v John Holland Rail Pty Ltd (No 3) [2011] FCA 164, albeit from the perspective of what a judge should and should not do: Continue reading “WA solicitor’s unilateral communication with judge’s associate was professional misconduct”

Another reason not to unilaterally communicate with the Court

Unilateral communication with a judge’s associate is a dangerous practice.  Unless it relates purely to procedural matters (and who knows exactly what the limits of that are), any communication with the Court, especially with a judge’s associate should be copied to the other side, or the other side should immediately be informed of it.  In these days of email, what can be the harm in copying the other side in every case?  If you don’t want to do so, you probably should not be communicating with the court.  Apart from the fact that it is improper to communicate unilaterally with the Court, it might give rise to an apprehended bias-based application that the judge recuse her or himself.  In John Holland Rail Pty Ltd v Comcare [2011] FCAFC 34, such an application failed, but the unanimous Full Court pithily stated the law:

Continue reading “Another reason not to unilaterally communicate with the Court”

Lord Bingham and Afua Hirsch

The rather beautiful English blogger, Afua Hirsch, at once a barrister and a Guardian correspondent, has posted a beautifully written obituary to Lord Bingham, pictured.  It is definitely a blog post, rather than something more formal belonging to the print version of a newspaper, and it is a fine example of its form, like much to be found in The Guardian, all the way down to Zia Mahmood’s bridge column. I commend it to you. Apologies to The Guardian for the theft of David Levene’s photograph.

Lady litigant seeks costs order against trial judge

Herewith an extract from von Reisner v Commonwealth of Australia (No 2) [2009] FCAFC 172:

‘1 Ms von Reisner was successful before us in an appeal against an order made on 31 March 2009 that she not be able to commence any proceedings in this Court without prior leave of the Court: see (2009) 177 FCR 531.


20 Finally, Ms von Reisner has sought an order that the primary judge be ordered to pay the costs. Continue reading “Lady litigant seeks costs order against trial judge”

VCAT’s Judge Ross appointed to the Supreme Court

Judge Iain Ross, who was the head honcho of VCAT’s Legal Practice List, and the Tribunal’s Vice-President, has been appointed to the Supreme Court, presumably taking up the spot left behind by a good and honourable man and quiet champion of human rights, Justice David Harper, who has been appointed to the Court of Appeal.  People from the generation before me typically seem to confuse him with Judge Les Ross, also a County Court judge, who retired in 2005.  Justice Ross was appointed a Vice-President of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission at the age of 35 in 1994, and was there until he went off to Corrs briefly in early 2006.  His Honour has been a County Court judge since 2007, and remained so as VCAT’s Vice-President. He was in charge of alternative dispute resolution at VCAT, and once referred to mediation my client’s application for orders compelling the Legal Services Commissioner to provide further and better particulars of a professional misconduct charge.  Austlii records numerous careful and thorough decisions of his Honour in Legal Practice List matters, many of which I have blogged.

I did not even know that his Honour had commenced hearing cases in his new role, but The Age‘s front page today records that he is hearing an appeal from VCAT in the case about the taxi driver who, long ago, stabbed his wife to death under the grip of a psychosis from which he has now recovered.  The case was XJF v Director of Public Transport [2008] VCAT 2303, a decision of Deputy-President Macnamara who seems to have moved into Justice Ross’s old spot as head honcho of the Legal Practice List.  I posted about the decision here.  Attorney-General Hulls’s press release says:

Continue reading “VCAT’s Judge Ross appointed to the Supreme Court”

Ombudsman carries out own-motion investigation of Legal Services Commissioner

A former client of mine, dissatisfied with the adverse outcome in a complaint he lodged making serious allegations against a senior member of the profession has tipped me off to an own motion investigation conducted into the Bureau de Spank by the Victorian Ombudsman.  The results, reproduced below, will not assist morale at the Bureau (compare his excoriation of the migration agents’ Bureau).  But solicitors can expect, I suppose, for the investigation process to become a bit more investigative than the gentlemanly exercise it has been as long as I can recall, and for more prosecutions to be brought.

In the hierarchy of regulators, I doubt that the Legal Services Commissioner is a particularly desirable post, but it should be.  Regulate the lawyers diligently, and the scope for all the others’ wrongdoing which the other regulators regulate is likely to be retarded.  It should also be desirable because it would be fun: the Commissioner doesn’t have to worry about the privilege against self-incrimination, and at least in complaints brought by former clients, can cruise past the usual irritant to pious investigators, legal professional privilege.  Imagine an investigation where you can gun for fines of $50,00o per offence, or the inherently spectacular thrill of seeing a lawyer fall from his perch with the wonderfully archaic fanfare of being struck from the rolls, but where you can essentially administer as many interrogatories as you like.  And imagine that default in answering the interrogatories is a crime the investigation of which is to be carried out by an investigator you personally get to choose in your capacity as head honcho of the Legal Service Board!  It should be enough to make an investigator pant with excitement.  Many a federal policewoman would probably give up her taser in exchange for these kinds of powers.

Continue reading “Ombudsman carries out own-motion investigation of Legal Services Commissioner”

Review of decisions to exclude lawyers from ASIC and NCA examinations

This is a note about a decision by a judge who is only a year older than me, Justice Nye Perram, a novel and somewhat unsettling circumstance: Collard v Australian Securities & Investments Commission (No. 3) [2008] FCA 1681. I looked him up because the judgment is so beautifully written, and found a welcome in Bar News (go to p. 97). The case is about lawyers’ rights to appear for clients to be examined by ASIC (and also, incidentally, by the National Crime Authority). It is also of interest to me because of its discussion of who bears the burden of proof when seeking review in administrative law of a bureaucratic act which statute stipulates may only be taken if it is reasonable (or necessary) to do so. Who bears the burden of establishing reason or unreasonableness? Continue reading “Review of decisions to exclude lawyers from ASIC and NCA examinations”

Calderbank offers

Calderbank offers — those marked ‘without prejudice except as to costs’ — are one of those subjects which recur so often that single judge decisions are constantly coming out, but one never knows exactly which ones to read. They all say much the same thing, with an equal degree of fuziness, and the illusion is that one may read the tea leaves to discern which way the wind is blowing. People are constantly typing ‘Calderbank offer’ into google and finding their way, for some reason, to my blog. So, for all those people, here is the latest and greatest discourse on the subject, a learned review in the nature of a tiny text by no less a luminary than a justice of the Supreme Court of NSW, Justice Beazley. It’s an extra-judicial bit of writing called, appealingly, ‘Calderbank offers’, available only on the website of the Supreme Court of NSW. Another authoritative and up-to-date source is the recently published second edition of Dal Pont’s also endearingly entitled Law of Costs.

On “cowardly”

Stephen Witham (pictured) moved into Michael Flaherty’s flat. The relationship quickly soured when Witham assaulted Flaherty’s girlfriend, and stood over people for drugs and money. So Flaherty got some mates together, hit Witham about with baseball bats, hogtied him with ropes and cable ties, wrapped him in a doona, popped him in the boot, and drove him down Mirboo North way for the purpose of executing him in a pine plantation. Before shooting him, he had a chat with Witham and asked him if he had any final requests. Witham asked for a beer, and they each had one from a six pack. Then Flaherty kicked Witham so as to roll him down a hill, and acceded to his request not to be shot in the face, shooting him dead, in the back of the head. Afterwards, he boasted about the killing. It might have gone undetected but for an anonymous tip off to the police. He showed no remorse in his police interview, pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, and was not known to have been violent in the past. According to Justice Kaye, he did later come to realise the enormity of his offending and was genuinely contrite. Continue reading “On “cowardly””

Magistrate: ‘You fucked up big time’

Update, 2 June 2008: When I was writing the original post, I badly wanted to link to this classic motion to dismiss a criminal charge against a kid who called his principal ‘a fucker, a fag, and a fucking fag’, but it seems it was one thing I did not take with me when I left my work computer behind.  Then two friends came to the rescue. A scan of the actual document may be found here.

Original post: A Victorian Magistrate told a convicted robber ‘You fucked up big time‘ before putting him away for almost four, with a minimum of two. He said he was unaware of the presence in the Court of the schoolgirls who dobbed him in to the Chief Magistrate. Today, ‘terrorist’ and ‘unAustralian’ carry more punch than the rather sweet ‘fuck‘. There is in truth only one word, the c-word, which does not fit in polite speech. And even that does not carry the same sting as the word a Swede whispered conspiratorially into my ear once, afraid even to say it out loud. That is also a four letter F word, and refers to the same bits and bobs as our c-word. I can’t bring myself to tell you what it is lest I breach some obscenity law in Sweden.

Never before, never again: Chief Justice of Norfolk Island gets a gig in the Victorian Court of Appeal

Ok, so it’s the man better known as Justice Mark Weinberg of the Federal Court of Victoria, but damn is the man a judge of many courts at once. If I read Deakin University’s staff profile properly, his Honour is concurrently a judge of:

  • the Federal Court;
  • the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island (he sentenced Janelle Patton’s murderer Glenn McNeil to a minimum of 18 years in jail last year);
  • the Supreme Court of Fiji;
  • the Supreme Court of the ACT; and
  • the Federal Police Disciplinary Tribunal.

I cannot think of another Federal Court judge who has crossed over to the Victorian Supreme Court or Court of Appeal. The traffic has been the other way (think Justices Kenny, Nicholson, and Jenkinson).

Punishing as the existing appeal judges say their schedules are, do not be surprised if his Honour just adds the Court of Appeal to his portfolio of judging responsibilities. He presently holds positions at both Deakin and Monash Universities, and was previously the Dean of the University of Melbourne Law School. He has been the Chairman of the Leo Cussen Institute, a long-time member of the Australian Law Reform Commission, and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. He wrote the Uniform Evidence Law (along with a couple of others). Continue reading “Never before, never again: Chief Justice of Norfolk Island gets a gig in the Victorian Court of Appeal”

An English legal ethics man in Miami

My impression is that the legal ethics dialogue is highly developed in the United States. The extent to which people practice what is preached over there is something I have heard word about but can’t guess at too accurately. Maybe its lawyers are more prone to extreme badness and so the discussion has more to feed on; they bribe judges over there, or try, or so it is alleged. And lawyers get access to their clients’ alleged victims’ laptops by having private investigators pose as researchers on internet use, and offering a new laptop in exchange for the old. And get away with it on the basis that they did not do the deed personally.

The extent to which the appearance of heightened discussion is merely a function of a huge population and a huge blogosphere is also something I find it difficult to guess at. Now there is an experiment which will help me work it out. An Englishman, John Flood, author of Random Academic Thoughts, is over in Miami, visiting a law school. And he’s blogging about it. So far, he’s impressed. While he’s in Florida, he could drop in on Jim Morrison’s birthplace, Melbourne, and let us all know how Melbourne, London, and Miami stack up against each other.

Justice Kevin Bell appointed VCAT’s President

I had heard the rumour a fair while ago from the most impeccable sources in VCAT and the Supreme Court that the Supreme Court’s Justice Bell was hot tip to take over from Judge Bowman as VCAT’s head. Now it’s confirmed. Frankly, though it would not be every lawyer’s cup of tea, it’s a great job, and a most important appointment. Continue reading “Justice Kevin Bell appointed VCAT’s President”

2007 a review: law and war

Happy new year, readers. 2007 was a big one for me, and it seems that lots of interesting things happened. So I made a list.

The Bar: My senior mentor, Peter Riordan SC, was elected Chairman of the Bar Council. Peter Hayes QC died, and the Ethics Committee took Peter Faris to task for commenting to excess on drugs in the profession. Mr Faris joined the Law Institute in lieu of the Bar. Former solicitor-advocate Andrew Fraser got out of jail and published his memoirs, Court in the Middle. Julian Burnside wrote an excellent book. Good people joined the Bar, including Tony Horan, formerly a partner of Phillips Fox, and Lisa Nichols, formerly a partner of Slater & Gordon Ltd, suggesting that it is a healthy institution. Mark Dreyfus QC was elected into Federal Parliament, Jeff Sher QC retired, and Peter Cawthorn, Dr Ian Freckleton, and Kerri Judd, all leaders of the professional negligence and/or discipline bar, took silk. Ross Ray QC assumed the helm at the Law Council of Australia.

The Bench: Justice Kiefel was appointed to the High Court from the Feds, the Howard Government’s 6th appointment after Justices Hayne, Callinan, Gleeson, Heydon and Crennan. She was the trial judge in Queensland v JL Holdings Pty Ltd (1997) 189 CLR 146, the case which is commonly understood to mean that you can always amend your pleadings at any time, contrary to her Honour’s view that sometimes, enough’s enough. Justice Callinan, the protagonist in Flower & Hart v White Industries (Qld) Pty Ltd (1999) 163 ALR 744, one of the key legal ethics cases of recent times, retired after nine and a half years. Lex Lasry was appointed to the Supreme Court. He was one of the blokes who campaigned against the execution of Van Nguyen, and was a legal observer at David Hicks’s show trial. Also appointed were Jack Forrest, Ross Robson, Paul Coghlan (ex-director of the Office of Public Prosecutions), and Tony Pagone (a tax lawyer with a keen interest in human rights who was reappointed after a tenure of 9 months in 2001 and 2002). The Court of Appeal had added to its bench Murray Kellam and Julie Dodds-Streeton. So 1 in 5 Supreme Court judges was appointed this year. Justice Gillard retired after ruling that Dr Abbie Lee was not defamed in the Herald-Sun‘s ‘Medibonk’ articles which called her a madam and a fraud. Justices of Appeal Callaway and Eames retired too.

Michelle Gordon, to whom the High Court’s Justice Hayne is married, was the only Melbourne appointment to the Federal Court. Former Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld QC was committed to stand trial for perjury after pleading not guilty.

Blogs: Melbourne lawyers Peter Faris, Leagle Eagle, Dr Mirko Bagaric, and Nicky Greenberg all wrote interesting blogs, mostly not about the law. Jamie Wodetzki, also a Melbourne lawyer, published the excellent Breakfast Blog. Club Troppo‘s ‘Missing Link‘ rounded up the best posts from Australian blogs twice a week or so: well worth subscribing to.

Books: Monash’s Professor Adrian Evans and Melbourne’s Christine Parker put out a book Inside Lawyers’ Ethics. Walmsley, Abadee and Zipser did great with the second edition of Professional Liability in Australia. University of Woollongong’s Ainslee Lamb and John Littrich put out Lawyers in Australia. Jason Pizer published the 3rd edition of his Annotated VCAT Act. The 9th edition of Keith Fletcher’s The Law of Partnership in Australia hit the stores. Former actress, barrister and ABC Radio National ‘Law Report’ compere Susannah Lobez published Gangland Australia. Leigh Sales published a book about David Hicks, Detainee 002. J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold over 8 million copies in the first 24 hours of its release. Black Inc.’s The Monthly continued, unlike most in its genre, to publish, suggesting this might actually be the new quality news magazine which sticks around. Helps when your publisher, Morry Schwartz, is a property developer I suppose. (A bit off-topic, but Bali got Lawyers’ Lawyered this year, so: Black Inc. also published Under the Volcano; The Story of Bali. Former English property lawyer Jonathan Copeland published another good book about Bali — a rare thing — Secrets of Bali.)

Crime, and alleged crime: Christopher Hudson allegedly shot Norton Gledhill solicitor Brendan Keilar dead outside the Rialto where I had been working until a couple of weeks before. A martial arts enthusiast is suspected of killing Pumpkin’s mum, and cast Pumpkin adrift at Spencer St. Carl Williams said that in an ideal world, he wouldn’t have executed Jason Moran in front of his kids, and Justice Betty King responded to point out that in an ideal world he wouldn’t have executed him at all. In an ideal world wife Roberta probably wouldn’t have expressed disappointment that Carl would be behind glass, making spitting in his face problematic, and Jason probably wouldn’t have hired two hit men to gun Carl down at his daughter Dhakota’s christening, giving Carl the idea of the execution with kids in the first place. The Herald Sun must have been spewing about the 35 year fully catered luxury State holiday Justice King granted him despite his insolence. Tony Mokbel was found in Greece. Bad wig. Peter Dupas was convicted of another murder as a result of confessions made to Andrew Fraser. Paris Hilton went to jail, prompting this peculiar peaen from Dr Bagaric. Continue reading “2007 a review: law and war”

Charter of Human Rights and the Victorian unrepresented litigant

Clayton Utz’s Sally Shepherd has a good article about a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Victoria’s Justice Bell on judges’ duties to assist unrepresented litigants, and whether change is to be wrought on that front by the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities which will really start kicking next year. It is the right to a fair trial contained in the Charter which is relevant. The decision is Tomasevic v Travaglini [2007] VSC 337, and will no doubt be read carefully by VCAT members who are frequently faced with unrepresented litigants. The analysis of the decision is by reference to the disadvantage of the unrepresented party as against the represented party. I wonder what the duties would be where two unrepresented parties are jousting with one another. It was one of those rare victories for the unrepresented; Mr Tomasevic, an educated and intelligent layman, had the County Court’s decision overturned, in part because of a want of proper assistance by the County Court judge. Ms Shepherd’s summary of Justice Bell’s articulation of a trial judge’s duties to Mr Tomasevic is as follows: Continue reading “Charter of Human Rights and the Victorian unrepresented litigant”