I must confess that in my early years in the law judges were sold for money. Although it is a thing of the past I propose to expose the whole scenario in the interests of truth.
I settled a Claim and Statement of Claim for the District Court, along with an Application for an injunction. It was urgent. On Thursday 20 September 2007, the solicitor’s clerk filing the documents phoned to say that the first available date was 16 October 2007. I said the matter had to come on the following Monday, giving us time to serve the documents and prepare the argument. Subsequently, I was informed by the solicitor that the registry could not assist but that the solicitor could write to the Judge’s Associate, if she wished, putting the case for an urgent hearing. Later still, I was informed that that had not borne fruit and the matter was listed for 16 October 2007.
It was imperative to have a judge urgently so I phoned the Chief Judge. The Associate informed me that the Chief Judge was away. I told her that I had an urgent Application and I had been informed that no more Applications could be taken on the Monday.
On Friday afternoon I received an email to the effect that the Applications Judge had kindly agreed to mention the matter at 9:30am the following Monday to try to organise a time for the hearing or an alternative day.
I duly attended at 9:30am. Unfortunately by that time everything had gone bottoms up. The solicitor had not managed to serve the documents, she had gone on holidays, the principal was involved in another court and I was assigned a lowly clerk to try to explain the convoluted circumstances to the Applications Judge.
In the course of the discussion I got the impression that His Honour believed that I had sought to have the Chief Judge overrule him and force him to take the Application despite the fact that his list was full. I moved quickly to correct that perception. I informed him that I had approached the Chief Judge (through her Associate) to have her appoint another judge from the twenty or so in Brisbane to meet my client’s humble needs. I told His Honour that the matter could not proceed and would have to be reviewed with the solicitors and the clients and the discussion ended. In the course of my explanation I mentioned that in the “good old days” one simply walked between Associates’ chambers to obtain a judge to hear the urgent interlocutory matter.
In those “good old days”, you would approach an Associate and if the Associate could persuade his judge to take the matter, (called a “Special”) the solicitor would pay the Associate four guineas, which was meant to be shared, as I recall, with the shorthand writer. So, with a well directed four guineas, one could acquire the judge of one’s choice (well almost)!
They were balmy days. Associate Des Draydon (as he then was) had a very cooperative judge. Des poked his head regularly out of the Associates’ chambers and attracted lots of young solicitors and articled clerks who acquired Des’s judge (the late Sir Harry Gibbs). Bill Lee (later the Honourable Justice Lee) was also a keen vendor. He sold his judge for four guineas whenever possible, although it must be said that his judge, Mr Justice Mack (later Mack CJ), was less inclined to accept Bill’s smooth talk. He was not as kindly disposed as was Gibbs J to law students and Associates. The other Associates were in on the racket too.
Such a system creates a healthy market. Solicitors should be allowed to troll through judges’ chambers to negotiate with hungry associates. No doubt the fee would be much more, but probably still a good investment. Unfortunately our judges are cloistered in hidey holes at levels above where the ordinary solicitor and articled clerk can penetrate. We are forced to rely upon the judgment of the clerk in the registry, who, in the absence of any financial encouragement, says that your “urgent matter” filed on the 20 September 2007 can comfortably be heard on the 16 October 2007. Reform is necessary. Bring back selling judges, I say.
James Crowley QC