Natasha Wallace’s story “See you in court” in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend about Her Honour Magistrate Jacqueline Milledge is a remarkable story about a remarkable woman who broke the “Glass Ceiling” without any fanfare. And yet as you read her matter of fact account you can’t help but get the feeling that she is still paying the price today. http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/see-you-in-court-20131202-2ykfh.html
Jacquie as she is known, is no Germaine Geer. I have known her since school and I have never heard her complain about gender inequality; although as revealed in this article through her career as a police officer and police prosecutor, prior to her appointment to the bench as a Magistrate, she had every right to do so
Ms. Wallace’s story discloses a history of misogyny, which was unknown to me. It is an eye opening read and should be a real lesson to the community today.
I worked closely with Her Honour Jacqueline Milledge as Counsel assisting the Coroner when as Deputy Senior State Coroner she presided over the Inquest of Aaron Light and the Inquest of Dianne Brimble. Her Honour’s conduct of those inquests was impeccable.
I have no issue with anything contained in Ms. Wallace’s story. However, that story has prompted me to publish some of my own comments.
The office of coroner dates back to the 11th Century England, even prior to the Magna Carta. Its purpose is to ensure, as best as possible, that no citizen looses their life without the community being satisfied as to the manner and cause of that death. You only have to think about it for a minute to understand that our society so values human life, that still today in the 21st century, the manner and cause of the loss of a human life must be determined by judicial officers.
As I submitted to the Brimble Inquest, whether the loss of life is that of Dianna Princess of Wales or Aaron Light a child prostitute, the value of that life is the same, and the law requires, as it should, the community to be satisfied as to the manner and cause of the loss of that life.
I was dismayed in the article of the published comments of the state’s former Coroner John Abernathy about the Brimble Inquest. Saying; “I felt the case was unlikely to go anywhere, and it didn’t.” I know John well and have a high regard for him, but that sort of comment is inappropriate. How does an inquest go nowhere when a Coroner is charged with determining the manner and cause of death, which was in fact determined. You only have to speak to the family of Dianne Brimble about that.
Or does Mr Abenathy mean that Ms Brimble’s manner and cause of death should not have been pursued because of an inadequate and under resourced police investigation.
The comments made by the then Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery QC and former Supreme Court Judge Roderick Howie were in my view grossly inappropriate and inaccurate. Blaming Her Honour and the media for fuelling prejudice against the men involved demonstrated how even the most senior people within the criminal justice system can speak out without any knowledge of the facts or circumstances.
The law requires inquests to be held in public except for very limited reasons. The law requires the exhibits in an inquest to be public except for limited reasons. Justice behind closed doors is no justice at all. That is why the law requires the function of its court to be public and be subject to public scrutiny.
When the Brimble inquest commenced there was no evidence that any person had committed any criminal offence. Therefore there could be no prejudice to any person. When the inquest commenced there was no evidence that anyone could conclude that evidence would come to light that some person had committed an offence. The inquest was inquiring into the manner and cause of Mrs Brimble’s death. Certainly the nature of the evidence was such that it caused the media to publish it. I am sure Messrs.’ Cowdery and Howie are not suggesting that the media should not have been permitted to do so.
Evidence that caused the inquest to be terminated and charges recommended against certain persons only eventuated shortly before the inquest was terminated and only as a result of some very talented homicide investigators who had commenced investigating the matters raised during the hearing of the inquest. Until that evidence was provided there was no evidence to charge any person.
The criticism of Ms Milledge was unfounded, inaccurate and grossly inappropriate by senior persons who should have known better.
Judicial Officers take an oath when they are sworn in to “do right to all manner of people according to law without fear or favour, affection or ill-will".
Sir Gerard Brennan on being sworn in as Chief Justice of the High Court on 21 April 1995 referring to that oath said:
“The form can be traced back to a statute of Edward III, but its substance is of enduring relevance. In substantially that form, the oath or affirmation is taken by every judge. It is rich in meaning. It precludes partisanship for a cause, however worthy to the eyes of a protagonist that cause may be. It forbids any judge to regard himself or herself as a representative of a section of society. It forbids partiality and, most importantly, it commands independence from any influence that might improperly tilt the scales of justice. When the case is heard, the judge must decide it in the lonely room of his or her own conscience but in accordance with the law. That is the way in which right is done without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. Judges sometimes appear to be remote, belonging to what have been described as "the chill and distant heights". In the doing of justice that must be so. Justice is not done in public rallies. Nor can it be done by opinion polls or in the comment or correspondence columns of the journals.”
Her Honour Magistrate Milledge remains true to her oath. She will never flinch, and never has in the face of criticism, pressure or convenience. Our school motto at The J.J. Cahill Memorial High School was "Virtutis Gratia Virtus", translated means “Do what is right, because it is right.”
Her Honour is the embodiment of that school motto. Long may she continue to serve the people of New South Wales.