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LIV Council brief for magistrate

News

Cite as: (2008) 82(7) LIJ, p. 36

John Bentley was learning the ropes as an LIV Council member when he was appointed a magistrate.

Before being appointed a magistrate, John Bentley was last year involved in one of Australia’s most notorious murder cases – that of serial killer Peter Dupas.

Employed by legal aid, Mr Bentley was Mr Dupas’ defence lawyer, working alongside barristers as part of the defence team in the Supreme Court.

“That was probably my biggest case from a defence point of view,” Mr Bentley told the LIJ.

He described the case – where Mr Dupas was jailed for life with no minimum term for the stabbing murder of Mersina Halvagis at Fawkner Cemetery 10 years ago – as “very challenging”.

Mr Dupas, who had pleaded not guilty to the murder, was already serving a double life sentence for two other murders.

Mr Bentley had been a senior solicitor at Victoria Legal Aid’s criminal law division since 2004 before being appointed a magistrate.

Before that he worked mainly in prosecution – first, for the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) in Victoria for eight years from 1995 (and later for a brief stint in 2004) and then at the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions in Adelaide for a year in 2003-04.

But Mr Bentley said defence work, particularly for legal aid, had always appealed to him.

As a prosecutor he had seen the legal aid practitioners at work, “how they worked and how hard and how difficult it was, and with the most disadvantaged clients ... and that just fascinated me”.

“I never saw myself as representing high corporate criminals or the so-called gang world,” he said.

“It was always the legal aid client – the most disadvantaged.”

Mr Bentley’s involvement in legal aid was what prompted him to stand for the LIV Council – a position he won in January and then resigned from in April after being appointed a magistrate.

“I think from a legal aid point of view it was important to have a voice on the Council,” he said.

“It was all very interesting and unfortunate that it was all too brief. I was still learning the ropes ... but it was very interesting and a wonderful job they do.”

Mr Bentley started his legal career in England, completing his bachelor of law degree at Leeds University in 1982 and then studying at the Inns of Court School of Law in London to be admitted to the Bar in 1983.

He has travelled extensively, including a nine-month working holiday in the US in 1983-84, where he secured a job as coach of a women’s soccer team in Boston, California. Later in 1989 he taught English in Japan, Bangkok and Thailand as part of a year-long working holiday in Asia.

Despite his soccer background, Mr Bentley, who has two boys aged six and eight, said he had happily switched to Aussie Rules on moving to Australia.

Mr Bentley’s wife is Australian, and on moving to Australia he completed a conversion course at Melbourne University in1992 which he described as enjoyable and interesting.

“It seemed a step back initially, but I met a lot of really interesting people doing the same sort of thing and we were thrown into lectures with the undergraduates,” he said.

Mr Bentley first worked for Wilson Potter Nicholson Solicitors in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne as an articled clerk and employee solicitor, and later for Ligeti Nicholson Solicitors in Queen Street and Dominic Esposito Solicitors in Carlton.

Mr Bentley said he felt his experience at both the OPP and legal aid would help him as a magistrate.

“More particularly, through my recent time at legal aid I have spent a lot of time there and seen the wonderful things that are happening at the Magistrates’ Court and the movements towards therapeutic jurisprudence ... and it is the coalface of the judicial system,” he said.

“And having worked in that area it helps me as a magistrate to understand what’s out there.”

How does the LIV Council work?

The LIV Council consists of 18 members who are elected for three-year terms.

Each year elections are held to fill six vacancies created through a rotating retirement system and also any casual vacancies that have arisen throughout the year.

The election process starts in September with the election results finalised at the LIV’s annual general meeting in November.

For more information on LIV Council, see http://www.liv.asn.au/about/structure/structure-The.html.

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