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Welcome Judge Peter Wischusen

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Cite as: (2008) 82(7) LIJ, p. 38

Judge Peter Wischusen was welcomed to the County Court at a ceremony on 1 May. Among the speakers was LIV president Tony Burke. This is an edited version of his speech.

I appear on behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state to congratulate your Honour on your appointment to this Court.

You will be greatly missed by your instructors.

Like many successful barristers, you stayed on as a solicitor for a couple of years after your admission to practice.

You then took a year off – going up north – before going to the Bar.

Your instructors speak of your commitment, your compassion and your mastery of the law.

You were always ready to run cases, rather than settle on mediocre terms.

The degree of specialisation in the profession varies across different areas of law. Compensation law is one of the more specialised fields. The same experienced specialist solicitors tend to brief the same experienced specialist barristers.

More so than in less specialised areas, it can happen that experienced specialised practitioners do not agree.

You were always open to ideas from your instructors and open, in the case of differences, to the possibility of acting on a view contrary to your own.

That openness will stand you in good stead on the Bench.

One instructor recalls a case in which the client had no memory of the accident. Witnesses were not much help. You assessed the chances of success as “slim”.

However, on the strength of your instructor’s – you would say unrealistic – assessment and expectations, you spent a week running the case on a no-win no-fee basis.

You were successful and the result exceeded even your instructor’s expectations.

You’re said to have a keen sense of humour – but it’s also said that this was rarely evident in client conferences or in court.

One instructor characterised you as having “white line fever”, referring to the build-up of tension as a football player runs across the white boundary line onto the field for the start of a match. Utterly focused and consumed by the task at hand.

Some instructors saw you as appearing gruff to clients – and duly prepared their client for the experience: “Mr Wischusen is very professional in his work. He can sometimes look and feel rather stern, even grumpy. All it means is that Mr Wischusen is concentrating on your case. Be assured that he is on your side, and he will do his very best for you”.

[Bar representative and previous speaker] Peter Riordan has spoken of WorkCover persistence – not only on appeal but beyond appeals through the courts – to procure legislative change through the government.

Small wonder, as one instructor said, that you sometimes felt as though you were being tagged by your institutional opponent, WorkCover.

You’d have several favourable results and all in a row, one after the other, WorkCover would take each one to the Court of Appeal.

You didn’t do exclusively plaintiff’s work but, except for a steady burst in the 1980s when you did a lot of defendant’s work, you seemed to go in and out of favour with defendants and their advisers.

Calmly, for more than 27 years as a barrister, you’ve persisted, taking whatever comes – surely an important quality for a judge.

Another solid recommendation is that the only criticism I have heard of your work at the Bar was your not engaging in the gossip and rumour-mongering that is, my informant says, endemic in the at times “incestuous” world of the compensation Bar and solicitors.

Only once, that I’ve heard of, have you been seen to be really angry.

You had a complex and difficult case involving aggravation of schizophrenia.
It was in this Court before a judge now long retired.

There had been eight specialist medical witnesses over a number of days of evidence. There was a complex tangle of opinion evidence. It presented similar problems to the divination of ratio decidendifrom individual High Court judgments with their often inconsistent reasoning.

The judge’s five-minute reasons for decision did not address or explain anything. His Honour said nothing more than that he preferred one of the eight medical witnesses.

You were incandescent to the point that your instructor remembers only one thing about the case, namely your absolute fury.

Such a passion for reasoned justice according to law bodes well for all who will appear before you in your new office as a judge of this Court.

On behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state, I wish your Honour long and satisfying service as a judge of this Court.

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