Former ACT Chief Magistrate Ron Cahill resigned in November 2009 to avoid giving evidence at a judicial inquiry that had been set up to determine if the ACT government had to sack him for interfering in the administration of justice. At the time the police were investigating him for criminal offences in relation to the same matter.
The Ron Cahill episode would have to be the biggest judicial crisis Australia has had since the former NSW Chief Magistrate Murray Farquhar was sentenced to 4 years jail in 1985 for judicial corruption. Yet the media coverage was substantially less than one would expect for such an issue. It should have been front page news for weeks one would have thought. (Click here to read more on Murray Farquhar)
This post is well overdue for this site but near on perfect timing to give an overview of what a disgrace the ACT judicial system is when Ron Cahill’s conduct is put together with the recent post I did on the current crisis with the ACT judge, Justice Richard Refshauge. (Click here to read the post)
There was a matter before the court in 2009 that involved a public figure who apparently assaulted his daughter and the then Chief Magistrate Ron Cahill put a suppression order on the details of the case.
The public figure was known professionally and socially to Ron Cahill and he should have never been anywhere near the case let alone putting a suppression order on the matter for his mate to hide his identity. Maybe an impartial judge would have put a suppression order on the matter anyway, though that is something we will never know, but Mr Cahill certainly had no right to do so as there was clear perceived bias at the very least if not real bias.
No media reported any details of who the public figure was except the Justinian website which said this:
“Lauritsen had been called in to try a sensitive Canberra case involving a politically well-connected quasi-judicial person whose name has been suppressed.”
“This prominent Canberra person has been charged with assaulting his daughter.”
“Despite the suppression order, the case has been the talk of the town for months. Most people in Canberra’s judicial, political, administrative and journalistic circles know who has been charged and what is going on.”
“The person is still on the government pay-roll, although only doing light duties at the moment.” (Click here to read more)
An out-of-town judicial officer, the then Victorian Deputy Chief Magistrate Peter Lauritsen, was called in to hear the matter.
“While the details of the case are suppressed, interstate magistrates are usually called on to hear cases involving lawyers or judicial officers from another state.”
“During the hearing, Mr Lauritsen is believed to have told the court he had been sent a detailed background briefing on the case.”
“Prosecutors later asked Mr Lauritsen to adjourn the case indefinitely while an external investigation was carried out.”
“They have alleged the documents, sent by email, included details of the case against the accused, case law and a copy of a suppression order.” (Click here to read more)
Case law is the term for precedents that the courts have set. So Ron Cahill sent the details of the case and relevant precedents which to me was in effect giving Magistrate Lauritsen guidance on how to judge the matter. A clear interference in the administration of justice.
This lead to the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions to make a formal complaint to the police who started an investigation.
Ron Cahill said in defending himself:
“I have done nothing wrong and I want to emphasise that I haven’t had the opportunity to put my point of view about what I did”
“But, I will tell you now that I will go to the highest court in the land until the day I die to ensure my character should not be besmirched”
“This is not a case of me influencing a magistrate at all, it’s a case of doing what I thought was appropriate to assist in making the case run appropriately.” (Click here to read more)
And this is where it gets interesting. At sometime before or after Magistrate Lauritsen told the court he had received a detailed briefing on the matter, two other ACT magistrates John Burns and Karen Fryar made a formal compliant to the ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell about Ron Cahill’s conduct in the matter.
Mr Corbell then set up the judicial inquiry to determine if Ron Cahill needed to be sacked by the ACT Government. Ron Cahill resigned almost immediately and the AG Simon Corbell shut down the judicial inquiry. So much for Ron Cahill defending his reputation to “the highest court in the land”. Mr Cahill said he resigned due to ill-health which I am sure is true, because looking down the barrel of some serious jail time would make anyone sick.
This all happened over a few weeks in November 2009, but the Federal Police continued their investigation until September 2010 and then swept it under the carpet. It was announced: “Prosecutors have now informed Mr Cahill’s lawyers that there is no reasonable prospect of a conviction and the investigation will be dropped”
And Ron Cahill said “his reputation has been restored.” Well his reputation had not been restored, all they said was “there is no reasonable prospect of a conviction” not that he was innocent. (Click here to read more)
Some of the key issues
A Director of Public Prosecutions, two magistrates and an Attorney-General as well as others believed there was a prima facie case that Ron Cahill was guilty of a crime, yet he walked free.
Ron Cahill’s lawyers said at the time “In a statement, Chief Magistrate Cahill’s lawyers say it is not uncommon for written material to be prepared for visiting magistrates.” (Click here to read more)
Well I am sure that it is “not uncommon for written material to be prepared for visiting magistrates” as well as other magistrates. I have no doubt that Chief Magistrates and Chief Justices of other courts do this on a regular basis when they want a certain judgement. The difference is that they would normally do it verbally so there is no paper trail.
One of the people who complained about Ron Cahill, Magistrate John Burns, was promoted to Chief Magistrate of the ACT. Victorian Deputy Chief Magistrate Peter Lauritsen was promoted to Chief Magistrate of Victoria. Simon Corbell is still the ACT Attorney-General.
I remember the Ron Cahill investigation well as I went to Canberra for a book signing with my book on judicial corruption at the Borders store in June 2010 while the police were still investigating Mr Cahill. The hatchet job was done on promoting the signing at Borders. Someone tapped on the manager’s shoulder to do so and I knew it.
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