Legislative Council: Wednesday, June 28, 2023


Judicial Conduct

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (15:42): 'Justice delayed is justice denied' is an oft-used term to describe the consequences for parties when court judgements are not delivered in a timely manner. In the case I am about to outline, a judgement in civil proceedings has still not been delivered 14 months after a District Court judge reserved his decision despite the proceedings being subject to a discretionary order for an expedited hearing. The time line and benchmark for all reserved District Court judgements is six months. However, in this case the Chief Judge has exercised the discretion to extend the period of delivery.

What is far more disturbing about this matter is that serious allegations have also been made in a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner and the Attorney-General about the conduct of the judge during the trial. The complaint raises a reasonable suspicion of unlawful interference by somebody with the integrity of the recording of live court processes. In short, a section of the court transcript and directions hearing audio, in which the judge is allegedly hostile toward the self-represented party and one of his witnesses, appears to have been erased without any explanation forthcoming.

The case was before Judge Paul Slattery and involved a lease dispute between the property owners of the iconic Adelaide Hills restaurant and function centre Maximilian's and the tenant of the business, Mr Andrew Friebe, and his company, Maxim Pty Ltd. Even though the matter was given precedence over others, Mr Friebe and his company have been left in limbo waiting for a decision.

On 10 May, Mr Friebe wrote to the Attorney complaining about Judge Slattery's alleged outbursts in court and the missing audio and transcript of those alleged outbursts. He describes it as an 'absolute scandal', which it may well be if there is not an acceptable explanation for the missing transcript and audio recording.

The witness in the case is retired barrister Michael Fuller, who has filed a total of three complaints about Judge Slattery to Judicial Conduct Commissioner Michael Boylan KC. Mr Fuller reveals in one of those complaints there had been historical bad blood between him and Judge Slattery, complains about the judge's alleged bullying and intimidatory behaviour, accuses Judge Slattery of denying him (Fuller) natural justice and procedural fairness, and points out some key missing words in a robust exchange he had with Judge Slattery while giving his evidence.

On 1 November 2022, Mr Boylan wrote to Mr Fuller informing him he had listened to the audio and found a short section was missing from the authorised transcript and that he had written to the court seeking an explanation. To this date, none has been given, despite numerous attempts by Mr Fuller to Mr Boylan to get one. However, Mr Boylan did grant Judge Slattery's request in December 2022 to suspend the investigation into Mr Fuller's complaints until at least a judgement was delivered.

I seek leave to table Mr Fuller's detailed submissions to the JCC, and this file also includes requests to the Attorney-General to intervene and inquire into Mr Boylan's conduct in the handling of Mr Fuller's complaints, along with a letter of complaint written in February by Mr Friebe to the Chief Judge of the District Court, Judge Evans.

Leave granted.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Mr Fuller says he is not satisfied with the lengthy delays in responses he has had from the Attorney-General to exercise his powers under the Judicial Conduct Act to make specific inquiries into the JCC, the Chief Judge and the Courts Administration Authority. He outlines his concerns in an email dated 6 June, which I seek leave to table.

Leave granted.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Mr Fuller is not a blowfly who makes irritating noise or who makes vexatious complaints. His submissions, both in writing and in oral addresses to two select committees, are fluent testimony to his significant skills as a former legal practitioner and advocate.

As for Mr Friebe, he learned this week the judgement is scheduled for next Wednesday. It is far too late for him. With the uncertainty surrounding his tenure, and without a proper lease, Mr Friebe has been unable to refinance his business after suffering losses during the COVID pandemic. This has had a devastating impact on his mental and physical wellbeing, requiring psychiatric treatment and counselling, including admission into a clinic.

Maximilian's ceased trading on 7 May, leaving Mr Friebe with no income and a huge legal bill to pay, and 13 staff losing their jobs. The swift administration of justice is paramount to maintaining our confidence in the judicial system.