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Formal Opening Ceremony, Court Of Criminal Appeal, Bathurst
IN THE COURT OF
McCLELLAN CJ at CL
Thursday 31 August 2006
Formal Opening Ceremony
Councillor Norm Mann, Mayor, Bathurst City Council
Court Of Criminal Appeal, Bathurst
Mr Bill Walsh, on behalf of the Bar Association of New South Wales
Mrs June McPhie, President, The Law Society of New South Wales
Ms Julianna Creswell, President, Central West Law Society
1 COUNCILLOR NORM MANN, MAYOR, BATHURST CITY COUNCIL: Thank you your Honour. And I must say before I start your Honours, that it is the first time I have been in a Courthouse so if I make a faux pas do not please put me in the dock will you.
2 The Honourable James Spigelman AC, Chief Justice New South Wales, The Honourable Justice Mr Peter McClellan, Chief Judge at Common Law, and the Honourable Justice Mr Brian Sully, Judge of the Supreme Court, Mrs June McPhie, President of The Law Society of New South Wales, Bill Walsh, William Owen Chambers Orange, and Mrs Julianna Creswell, President of the Central West Law Society.
3 It is with great pleasure that I welcome you here today, to not only the Bathurst Courthouse but to the Bathurst region. To many, Bathurst is best known as the home of the V8 Racing circuit, however, there is much more to Bathurst than that. Bathurst is Australia’s oldest inland settlement and with that brings a rich history of heritage that Council and our residents are very proud of.
4 For example, this courthouse was the fourth courthouse built in Bathurst and as you can see was quite a feat in architecture and design. It was decided by Governor Bourke in 1835, that gaols would be built in Sydney, Parramatta and Bathurst, resulting in these areas requiring courtrooms to be built. This ensured the future growth of Bathurst and the gaol was built on what is now Machattie Park, and the courthouse that we know today, was built adding to employment and the stature of the city of Bathurst.
5 The Bathurst Courthouse is quite a famous building in Bathurst and beyond. It attracts tourists and has featured on many different travel shows, when they have visited our region. It’s forecourt has hosted concerts, the Sydney Olympic Marching Bands, and even a Black Tie Dinner. The building has been subject to its own rumours and innuendo, including the well known local yarn, that Bathurst received the wrong plans for the courthouse which was originally meant to be built in India. However, a rumour, we can assure you it is not true.
6 Bathurst Regional Council prides itself on the region’s history and heritage and the fact that the Bathurst region is an ideal place for people to live, work, study, invest and play. We provide an affordable great lifestyle, and full range of quality health and community services, a vibrant culture and good retail shopping. Bathurst provides a diverse range of employment opportunities from unskilled, trade, managerial and professional opportunities, to a great environment for starting your own business. Our City is expanding faster than the State average, demonstrating that more and more people are realising the opportunities Bathurst has to offer.
7 Again, I welcome you here today, and I hope you enjoy your time in Bathurst, thank you.
8 MS JUNE McPHIE, PRESIDENT, THE LAW SOCIETY OF NEW SOUTH WALES: May it please the Court.
9 It is with great pleasure that I on behalf of the 20,000 practising solicitors in New South Wales, have the opportunity to welcome your Honours and the Court to Bathurst.
10 As a rural practitioner from Cooma, I can fully appreciate the significance of today’s ceremonial sitting in this Bathurst Courthouse and the significance it has to the local community. Coming from Cooma I understand that the prevailing weather in Bathurst is some 10 to 15 degrees higher than it is in Cooma, so I can understand your Honours’ choice, in coming to this wonderful city.
11 This special sitting creates an opportunity for the City of Bathurst and surrounding areas, to actually observe how justice is administered in the State of New South Wales, at the very highest level. Sir William Blackstone once said that the court’s policy, “was to bring justice home to every man’s door, by constituting as many courts in judicature, as there are manners and townships in the kingdom. The courts of justice flowing in large streams from the King as the fountain, to his splendour and superior courts of record, and being then subdivided into smaller channels till the hole in every part of the kingdom were plentifully watered and refreshed”.
12 Indeed the courts, following that course, have shown their deep commitment to ensuring that justice is equally made available to all, by providing regular regional sittings throughout New South Wales. An ethos which we generously applaud. With the analogy of Blackstone your Honours, it is a shame though, that the McLachlan River isn’t flowing with more gusto and strength.
13 The Law Society recognises the value of the special sittings, to help educate the public about our criminal justice system. If the community can witness the difficult task judges have to face when determining an appropriate sentence, perhaps it could dispel some of the myths of judges being accused of being out of touch with the community. We must be mindful that judges hand down thousands of decisions every year, and it is only a very small proportion of these sentencing decisions which are appealed or reported in the media, for sensationalist journalism and/or political expediency.
14 By allocating valuable resources to hear matters in Bathurst, we can achieve key components of openness and transparency, which will help to maintain the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system.
15 In closing your Honours, may I observe that it is particularly encouraging to see a large number of solicitors present here today and it is testimony to their support, the broader system of law, and this jurisdiction. And once more on behalf of those solicitors and the Law Society, we extend a warm welcome to you and thank you so much for coming to regional New South Wales.
16 MR BILL WALSH, ON BEHALF OF THE BAR ASSOCIATION OF NEW SOUTH WALES: May it please the Court.
17 It is my honour and privilege on behalf of the barristers of New South Wales, and in particular the regional bar, to welcome your Honours and the court to this magnificent courthouse and to this wonderful City of Bathurst.
18 People in Sydney have expressed admiration of the courage of the court in coming to Bathurst in winter. But I’d like to place on record that my inquiries with the Bureau of Meteorology indicate that Bathurst is enjoying the mildest winter in history. In addition whether from good luck, or dare I say with the utmost respect, shrewd planning, it might be noted that the court is sitting in Bathurst on the last day of winter and the first day of spring.
19 For the Court of Criminal Appeal, the highest court in the criminal justice system of this State, to travel and sit in Bathurst is a very important occasion, for the city of Bathurst and in the life of the Court itself. I understand this is the first occasion that the Court of Criminal Appeal has sat in Bathurst. Citizens in regional and rural New South Wales often consider that they are either ignored, or that the preference is given to their counterparts the metropolitan area of Sydney. By this court taking the time and the effort to travel to and sit in Bathurst, means a lot to the people of this area. It means that the court is expressing its concern for, and interest in, the people of this region. In very recent times, the court has visited a number of regional centres. This is an important step in the life of the Court and it is very much appreciated.
20 What is not commonly known by people in the community in general, is the very high workload of this court. Near 500 appeals against convictions and sentences, are meticulously heard by this court each year. Each case is scrupulously examined, and decisions that are handed down, usually result in lengthy judgments. It is this Court, as a Court of Appeal, which provides guidance and direction to the community, to the legal profession and to judicial officers, in the manner in which criminal trials in this State, whether before juries or magistrates, are conducted and sentences handed down.
21 The court is formally and warmly welcomed to Bathurst by the Bar. It is to be hoped that your Honours and your Honours’ staff have an enjoyable and productive time. As the court pleases.
22 MS JULIANNA CRESWELL, PRESIDENT, CENTRAL WEST LAW SOCIETY: Thank you, your Honour.
23 Your Honour I echo the words of my friend and my learned counsel Mr Walsh. It is indeed a great pleasure to have your Honours here and it does indeed give the community of Bathurst great pleasure and certainly an honour to have all the distinguished guests that we have in this courtroom today, gathered today for this very special occasion. Without further ado and on behalf of the Central West Law Society, and as a Bathurst practitioner myself, I welcome your Honours and welcome our distinguished guests and our distinguished guests in the audience of whom there are a number of distinguished guests to my right. Without further ado, if we could have your Honour’s reply. Thank you Chief Justice.
24 SPIGELMAN CJ: Thank you Ms Creswell.
25 This is the first sitting of the Court of Criminal Appeal in Bathurst, It is appropriate that this occur, after all, we spend a fair bit of time increasing your population, through the corrective services process. We have other connections with the area. Bishop Richard Hurford spent many years at St James Church, which is really the Anglican Church for the legal profession, right next door to the Supreme Court. It is good to see him again.
26 The Supreme Court has in recent years lessened the degree of its interaction with regional New South Wales. This is simply a function of the workload. For many years civil circuits were a regular feature in many regional towns, including this one. Those sorts of cases no longer come to the Supreme Court in anything like the numbers they used. They still do come and when they do judges of the Court come and sit wherever it is appropriate to sit. Where the largest number of witnesses come from is usually the most appropriate place to sit. Judges of the Court sit in civil and criminal trials, in this Court mainly murder trials, wherever is the most appropriate place for that to occur. The Supreme Court maintains its connection with regional New South Wales, but not to the same degree as it used. Much of the civil workload was transferred to the District Court, but that has also declined.
27 It remains of great significance for the criminal justice system, and for the administration of justice as a whole, to maintain its ties with rural New South Wales. The most effective way of doing that is by these sorts of visits. I look forward to not only the cases we have to hear, which are chosen as being of significance to the local community, but also to meet the profession. We will have a number of opportunities to do so and to further our understanding of the difficulties of rural New South Wales and of legal practice in rural New South Wales.
28 Of course the circuits that used to occur have a very long history. They commenced when the judge of the Supreme Court came here in 1841, under what was then recent legislation for the creation of circuit Courts, not technically the Supreme Court, but circuit courts administered by judges of the Supreme Court. Indeed, for many years, one of the complaints that was made was that because all of the Judges were on circuit there were no Supreme Court judges in Sydney for several months of the year. That did not change for some time.
29 However, as far as I am aware, the first case on record in Bathurst was back in 1830. That was six years after the Supreme Court was brought into existence in 1824. In 1830 a Supreme Court judge came here to try some bushrangers, as it was said at the time, “In the district where their outrages had been committed.” Well we still do that, even 176 odd years later. It is appropriate that that be done, because the community has to see the administration of justice at work, and particularly the administration of criminal justice. Nothing is more significant in terms of public confidence in the administration of justice than the direct exposure to criminal justice and in particular, criminal sentencing.
30 As Ms McPhie mentioned, from the thousands and thousands of criminal sentences imposed by judges and magistrates each year in this State, perhaps two dozen get any kind of publicity and it’s all bad publicity. All of the other thousands of cases, in which the sentences go without comment are never mentioned in the media.
31 Sentencing engages the interest and the attention of the public, and particularly those who are victims of crime or family and friends of the victims of crime, more than anything else judges do. It is of great significance for us to explain ourselves and to take what opportunities we can, to explain why it is the sentences were imposed. The range of public opinion about what is a permissible sentence in a particular context is extremely wide. There are people at one end who hate sending anyone to gaol, particularly young persons. There are people at the other end who still believe in the death penalty. The range of permissible opinion for judges is much narrower than is the range of public opinion. We have to have some level of consistency in our sentencing so that the administration of justice is not brought into disrepute by a widespread belief that what happens depends on what judge happens to sit on a particular occasion.
32 There is a permissible range of opinions for judges, but the range of permissible opinion for the judiciary is much, much narrower, than the range of actual public opinion. That is one reason why what we do will always engage some level of controversy, not least from the victims of crime, but not only from them.
33 Sentencing and criminal activity has always been controversial. It started in the Garden of Eden, when God called Adam to account for his transgressions. Those of you familiar with the Old Testament, will know that he did the obvious thing and blamed his wife. She, more imaginatively, blamed the snake. Ever since we have been concerned with the long term implications of this particular sin and whether or not rehabilitation is possible.
34 These issues of what is proper punishment, how many generations it has to go through and what the prospects of rehabilitation are, have not changed since that day. They will always be with us.
35 It is of great significance for the administration of justice that we do what we can to explain ourselves. The best way of doing that is by face to face contact.
36 It is of course wonderful to be in this magnificent Courthouse. We have done exceptionally well in this State from our government architects over many, many decades. James Barnett is, of course, one of the greatest. He built Courthouses here, Goulburn, Forbes, Yass. He built the Australian Museum, the Post Office in Goulburn and the GPO in Sydney. But this unquestionably is one of his gems. It is a delight to see it. It is of continuing and enduring significance. It is a delight to be here and to sit in this courthouse.
37 I thank you for the observations you have made. We look forward to our stay here, brief as that may be. There are a number of cases, all of which involve parties from this general region. No doubt they will be of some interest to the persons involved. We cannot do this for all crimes that are committed because the flow of work just is not large enough to justify rural sittings for appeals in all local or regional criminal cases. Nevertheless where we can, we do. We do it at least once a year, and sometimes twice. I have no doubt that we will back here.
38 Thank you very much for your attendance. We will proceed to the work of the Court this afternoon. The Court will now adjourn.