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By Law Institute Journal

Courts Discrimination Ethics 


Magistrates or judges?

When a government last looked at nomenclature, wigs and titles, about 30 years ago, I among others suggested calling the magistrates’ courts “local courts” and the magistrates themselves local court judges. Finally, I suggested that the absurd mode of address “your worship” be abandoned in favour of “your honour” – this has been adopted recently.

The name and style of “local court” matches changes recently wrought in other states of Australia, as well as matching the titles used even in the United States.

I have often been asked by clients, what does magistrate mean? But no one will have any doubt what judge means. The Chief Magistrate’s proposal is long overdue and completely justified.

Thirty years ago, I also advocated the cessation of wearing wigs. I quoted Lord Esher’s amusing but pithy comment on the topic but to no avail. The (former) Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has now imposed that change on the Bar, long after it was needed, and in the face of great resistance from the junior Bar. The public has always regarded the wearing of wigs as humorous and pointless.

It is a poor reflection on the people in authority, both in government and in the legal profession as a whole, that they are so incredibly reluctant to turn their minds to what may appear to be cosmetic changes easily made, but which in reality are capable of enhancing the status of lawyers and improving understanding of the workings of the law among the populace.

Professor Phillip Hamilton, lawyer and notary

Alleged gender bias

Two letters during the past year alleging gender bias in the law warrant response. In May 2017 Elena Tsalanidis suggested in a comment that large pay disparity between male and female barristers was due, in part, to “unconscious bias”, which is unanswerable, being a completely amorphous concept.

She also said that pay disclosure ameliorated disparity, and cited the pay parity in the public service where there is pay disclosure. This is a specious comparison. Public servants are employees, and of course the genders are paid the same for the same position. Barristers are self employed and success or not depends on a number of factors, such as experience, networks, diligence, etc. I am a self employed sole practitioner, moderately successful. Should I ascribe my relative lack of success to race bias (Jewish)?

An unidentified barrister in June (Unsolicited) suggested that the holding of functions at 5.30 displayed systemic bias due to children responsibilities. Has it occurred to her that a) for the substantial majority of attendees this is the most convenient time; and b) the desire to accommodate the majority is a proper principle.

Michael T Helman, solicitor


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