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Welcome Judge Geoffrey Chettle

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Cite as: (2004) 78(1-2) LIJ, p. 33

Recently appointed County Court Judge Geoffrey Chettle was welcomed to the County Court at a ceremony on 5 December 2003. Among the speakers was then Law Institute president Bill O’Shea. An edited version of his speech follows.

Born in the quiet, picturesque country town of Trentham, your Honour attended Geelong College and matriculated in 1969. You attended Trinity College within Melbourne University and was conferred with a bachelor of laws in 1974.

Your Honour did articles at Hillards in Mildura and was admitted to practice in 1975. You were an associate at Wighton & McDonald in Geelong between 1975 and 1978 and signed the Bar roll in 1978.

You have been in the unique position of performing both prosecution and defence work. You demonstrated particular expertise in commercial and white-collar crime, having performed prosecution work for the state and federal Offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Your Honour has appeared in several high-profile criminal cases including as defence counsel for an ex-drug squad officer charged with drug trafficking and other offences.

You were also the Crown prosecutor in the Estate Mortgage trial in the early 1990s. We noticed from the newspaper archives that you prosecuted Victoria’s first insider trading case in 1989 involving an investment manager.

We spoke to many of your colleagues who described you as urbane, smooth, cultured, dignified and intellectual. It was only later that we realised that we had confused your Honour with Geoff Nettle, appointed to the Supreme Court last year.

Regardless of any comparisons, what I can say publicly is that your Honour has all the qualities of a great judge.

As we know, occasional displays of crankiness, an unshakeable sense of self-belief and the ability to jump to instant conclusions are all essential requirements for judicial office.

All joking aside, you not only have a thorough knowledge of the law but possess a highly-developed understanding of human nature. You are also renowned for a capacity for hard work.

We are reliably informed that your Honour “plays to win” in all things in life, especially when it comes to representing clients in court.

Your Honour is considered the lawyer’s lawyer in every respect. In fact, whenever a colleague got into a scrap with the law outside chambers, you were often the first one they rang for legal representation.

In court defending a colleague, your Honour once managed to pull off the extraordinary feat of not only having the charges dismissed – but having costs awarded against the police.

You were the inspiration for actor Chris Haywood’s motorcycling barrister Michael Kidd in the ABC-TV drama series Janus.

Janus was a strong, gritty, up-close-and-personal examination of the contemporary Australian legal system, set in Melbourne and revolving around the Magistrates’, County and Supreme Courts.

We are reliably informed that you even scored a walk-on cameo role as a criminal. In fact, it was remarked by the producers of the TV series that you looked more convincing in the cameo appearance than most of the hardened criminals that have ended up on your client list.

On the ABC’s Law Report, your Honour articulated the views on the criminal justice system developed over many years at the Bar.

In that interview, your Honour said:

“The classic defence for a criminal lawyer in a criminal trial does not involve confusing a jury, confusing a witness, or verbal thuggery. Juries appreciate and understand what’s occurring in front of them. They know when somebody is having a lend of them or trying to trick them. There are rules that prevent badgering and improper cross-examination. The judges will stop a barrister who abuses his position.

“Cross-examination, in my view, both when I’ve appeared for an accused and when I’ve prosecuted for the Crown, is a good way in fact of exposing the truth.

“The system may not have as its core an essential search for truth; it has a search for proof, but in the course of that trial, the truth is not neglected – it is in fact sought constantly.”

Your Honour concluded, “I’m prepared to put my faith in the current system.”

We have no hesitation in putting our faith in your Honour.

Colleagues talk of your Honour’s unparalleled skills in cross-examination, the thoroughness of your preparation and your Honour’s razor-sharp intellect.

May I congratulate you on your elevation to this Court, commend your appointment and, on behalf of the Institute and the solicitors we represent, wish you all the best for the future.

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