November 19, 2003 | Graham

Pauline Hanson needs a judicial inquiry

This week the CMC began an inquiry into the trials and tribulations of Pauline Hanson and David Ettridge, but it is the wrong body. Hanson and Ettridge deserve a judicial inquiry.
Many people from all sides of politics think that there is something wrong with the Queensland justice system. Last Sunday Professor Rosemary Hunter of Griffith University was quoted in the Sunday Mail commenting on the Fingleton case saying it was “the misuse of the legal process to destroy the reputation and career of a woman who dared to be different.”
Fingleton was Queensland’s Chief Magistrate but was jailed earlier this year on a charge of retaliating against a witness. The matter arose out of a dispute between Fingleton and a junior magistrate Anne Thacker. Fingleton wanted to transfer Thacker to Townsville and Thacker didn’t want to go and took the matter to judicial review. Fingleton’s subordinate, Co-ordinating Magistrate Basil Gribbin became involved and Fingleton told Gribbin that as he had given Thacker an affidavit she would have to demote him. Gribbin was a witness in a judicial matter, Fingleton was threatening him – pretty clear case I would have thought.
There was a public campaign against her conviction at the time with a variety of defences being raised. Most prominent were various anti-female conspiracy theories which sat very oddly with the fact that the original matter concerned a woman, the Director of Public Prosecutions is a woman, the Sydney barrister who conducted the case is a woman and two-thirds of the jury were women. Apparently there are a lot of gender Quizzlings in Queensland. There were other arguments to do with her working class origins etc., but the common theme was vicitimisation and the common intent appeared to be to bully the legal system into reversing the decision. Alas for Fingleton, the Appeal Court held firm.
In the case of Pauline Hanson similar themes ran through the defence: victimization (almost leading to sanctification via martyrdom), and a belief that public pressure would somehow lead to the appeal court reversing the decision. In this case the Appeal Court did reverse the decision, but in the process also appeared to change its mind. Two of the three Appeal Court judges sat on both the appeal against the Sharples Case and this one.
In Sharples they held that One Nation was fraudulently registered by Hanson and Ettridge, but in this case found Hanson and Ettridge innocent of fraud. As a result prominent lawyers in Brisbane (including some judges) are privately speculating that the judges caved in to pressure.
This possibility has been brought into sharp focus by the largely ignored decision of the High Court, delivered last Friday, to refuse leave to David Ettridge to appeal against the original Sharples case. In its reasons the court (a single judge) cited the neglible prospects of the appeal succeeding as one of its grounds for refusing the application. As various lawyers have been saying to me all week – the two original judgements cannot stand together, one has to be wrong. The High Court appears to be indicating that it is the second judgement involving the Queensland Court of Appeal that is wrong, which is why we need a judicial inquiry of the most simple and regular kind.
In these circumstances it is not good enough for the Chief Justice, the Government and the Opposition to blame the DPP and Hanson’s legal representatives for the state of affairs when the very real possibility is that the court itself is to blame. Tough as it may be, Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clair has to put the credibility of the DPP even further on the line by launching an appeal in the High Court against the quashing of Hanson and Ettridge’s conviction. Otherwise there will be a continuing perception that the Queensland courts can be influenced through public pressure, as well as a lingering doubt about the real reasons for which Hanson, Ettridge and even Fingelton were convicted.

Posted by Graham at 11:35 am | Comments Off on Pauline Hanson needs a judicial inquiry |
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