Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Chief judge scolds the prosecutor

VICTORIA'S two most senior judges have delivered an extraordinary rebuke to the state's Director of Public Prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, QC, accusing him of endangering the fairness of the criminal justice system.

The chiefs of the Supreme and the County Court have both taken aim at Mr Rapke over his professed habit of telephoning judges and counselling them over their "insensitive" remarks towards victims of crime.

In comments last week, Mr Rapke revealed he would sometimes ring judges after trials had ended and ask them to think next time before they spoke in court.

If a judge was contacted by the director, it would put at risk the independence and impartiality of the criminal justice system.

Neither prosecution nor defence lawyers were permitted to speak to a judge directly about a case.

By legal convention, lawyers do not speak to judges about ongoing cases except in open court. Speaking about a case when it is over is a grey area.

Law Institute of Victoria president Tony Burke said Mr Rapke's comment signified an inflated view of the role of his office. "No one has special access to the courts in this state. An essential part of our justice system is its impartiality," he said. "Justice happens in public. Both trials and sentences are conducted in public."

He said the institute also disagreed with Mr Rapke's view, that committal hearings were a waste of time and money. "The criterion in the criminal justice system is not economy and efficiency; it is fairness. An accused person should not be subjected to a lengthy trial unless it has first been established that there are reasonable grounds upon which a jury, properly charged, might convict," Mr Burke said.

John Digby, QC, chairman of the Victorian Bar Council, said in previously unpublished remarks, "I've spoken to judges on occasions … In fact I wrote a letter to a judge last week in relation to a matter."

He said the law governing his role gave him a particular responsibility in terms of victims of crime: "If I don't say things in relation to matters which attract a lot of attention, then who else is going to say it?"

Mr Rapke had no comment yesterday.

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