Page 3192 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 24 August 2005

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The sequence of events propounded by Mr Glisson provide little support for his contention that a lay observer could have formed an apprehension of bias.

Another paragraph goes on:

We are unable to see how the first respondent’s comments could provide any ground for an apprehension of bias.

This is important because it does suggest that either the legal advice was not saying exactly what the Chief Minister or Attorney-General tells us it was saying or the legal advice was not very good. Either way, it is a concern.

As I said, public confidence is the key here. The Supreme Court did raise the issue about Coroner Doogan being misled over the independence of bushfire experts. And that is a serious issue as well, when the full bench of the Supreme Court says:

The coroner, when inquiring into deaths arising from one of the most serious disasters to face Canberra, has been misled. That is very serious.

That also erodes public confidence in judicial processes.

The other thing that erodes public confidence and blurs the separation of powers is when a government seeks to knock off a coroner because they do not like what she might find. What does that do for public confidence in the judiciary? If a government does not like a coroner, they seek to knock them off. At least it delays the process. If they knock them off, good; get a new coroner; maybe they will be a little more favourable.

I think the irony of the government’s position on this is that they were arguing that a lay observer might perceive bias on the part of the coroner—an argument comprehensively rejected. But the very fact that it was argued by the government that the coroner was biased adds to the perception that she is biased. So it is self-perpetuating. By arguing that she is biased, they are adding to that public perception that they seem so concerned about.

The Attorney-General thinks that the coroner is biased. I think that might explain why he gave such a sheepish answer in the Assembly last week when he was asked a question about expressing confidence in the coroner. When he was asked if he had confidence in the coroner, he gave a very long answer and eventually said that he supported all judicial officers. Unconvincing stuff! But asked when he regained confidence in the coroner, he said that he had never lost it. But he thought she was biased. It was the contention of submissions made on his behalf that the coroner was biased. On the one hand, he thinks the coroner is biased; but, on the other hand, he has confidence in her.

Mr Stanhope: On a point of order: I know it is a broad debate but at no stage did the government suggest in their submissions that the coroner was biased. That is simply not true. The action was around a perception of bias.

MR SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, though. It is a debating point perhaps.

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