Page 2692 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 16 August 2005

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That is a strong statement: “Some of the grounds relied upon plainly provide no basis for any reasonable apprehension of bias.” The full bench was categorical in their dismissal of assertions of bias against the coroner. Take, for example, the assertion that the coroner should not have viewed the fire-affected areas with three members of the legal team assisting her, along with four potential expert witnesses. At page 54, the Supreme Court, without reservation, states:

These complaints may be readily dismissed. It was entirely appropriate for the first respondent … to undertake a view as part of her initial investigation, and equally appropriate for her to take one or more experts with her so that the relevant areas could be identified and the significance of particular observations fully appreciated.

In deliberating about the coroner’s rejection of the order sought by counsel for the prosecutors requiring counsel assisting the coroner to produce documents relating to the preparation of expert reports by Mr Roche and Mr Cheney, the Supreme Court stated:

However, we are unable to see how the first respondent’s … could provide any grounds for an apprehension of bias.

That is at page 106. The judges, after examining the notes in point form produced by junior counsel for the coroner, decided:

We have examined the notes with due care and can readily appreciate that a person whose sensitivity to potential criticism had been heightened by public comments, adverse press reports and cross-examination at the inquiry, might have seen some of the recorded comments as consistent with, if not indicative of, the emergence of a ‘party line’. However, the hypothetical lay observer must be taken to have viewed the relevant events in a fair and objective manner and without any predisposition to construed terse and obviously incomplete notes by reference to pre-existing anxieties. Such an observer must also be taken to recognise that counsel assisting a coroner is likely to form at least tentative impressions as to where the truth may lie and to form strategies that to some extent reflect those impressions. Neither their reluctance to reveal those strategies, nor a coroner’s reluctance to compel them to do so are necessarily indicative of bias.

At page 127:

We are unable to accept any of these submissions.

More contentions, at page 130:

Again, we are unable to accept these contentions.

At 132:

We are again unable to accept this submission.

Or at 137:

… we are unable to see how any support for the prosecutor’s contentions could be derived from this sequence of events

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