Wednesday, 10 February 2010

New magistrate arrives to mixed reception

Edit: Chief Magistrate Ian Gray has now been quoted as saying that Mr O'Callaghan will hear both civil and criminal matters, and is unlikely to be deployed away from hearing traffic-related cases.

The appointment of Victoria's newest magistrate, John O'Callaghan, has been criticised by some as inappropriate due to a drink-driving prior in 2003.

Mr O'Callaghan recorded a reading of .07%

The Age reports that Mr O'Callaghan will only hear civil cases. If this is so, his history may make him the envy of other, more senior magistrates who are obliged to tour the country circuits.


Anonymous said...

Am I alone in thinking: who cares?

We aren't looking for a saint -we've already got one ;-)

Maybe a few more magistrates with some life experience and without the holy-than-thou attitude would be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

So he is only hearing Civil cases -will not be able to work in any Metro or Country Court where 95% of the caseload is Criminal and Family Violence.
AG has set new precedent in appointing mates...sorry Magistrates who will only specialise in one jurisdiction.

MadMax said...

Sorry, but I do not see that twenty years of civil is adequate preparation for being a magistrate. I do not care how many cases he has been in, that is NOT "life experience".


Unknown said...

I think a deep breath and a little perspective may be what is required here.

Anyone who likes a drink and owns a car must, if truly honest with themselves, admit that they may - I stress only *may* - have also done what John O'Callaghan has been caught and dealt with for doing.

A reading of .07 is hardly raging drunk. As the media points out, the police were not enforcing readings up to that level until soon before Mr O'Callaghan was apprehended. It was only in 2002 that all US states adopted a breath alcohol concentration limit of .08 or lower, a fact which they now boast of.

To exclude someone who could be a fine magistrate based upon a single incident like this would be taking puritanism to new extremes.

(Disclaimer: I know John O'Callaghan and, although I would not go so far as to claim him as a friend, my knowledge of his personal qualities certainly may influence my judgment on this issue).

Kyle said...

I don't know John O'Callaghan, but a few folks whose judgment I value do know him, and speak highly of him. I can't think of many strict-liability offences that ought to disqualify anyone from public office — at least for a single occasion at the bottom end of the scale.

And I don't know if 'life experience' is the right criteria for appointing judicial officers. It could be, depending on what we think that means.

Ultimately, I think we want our judicial officers chosen on their legal ability and experience and ability to be disinterested in disputes before them. For my part, I'd rather appear before a magistrate who isn't a criminal law expert but gives each side a fair opportunity to put their case and test their opponent's, than a criminal law expert who reaches a tentative conclusion quickly or unduly descends into the arena.

I was concerned about previous reports that Ian Gray wouldn't allocate him to criminal hearings. Inevitably, within their first few years at the bench, magistrates are sent to a country court. And, even if not straight away, they invariably do a stint at a suburban venue too.

It would be very difficult for a magistrate to not hear any criminal matters at a suburban courthouse with several court rooms, but nigh impossible at most of the country courthouses. I think the only way it could be guaranteed would be for a magistrate to stay at the Melbourne court — and I imagine that might cause some ructions with other magistrates who do have to move around.