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Welcome to magistrate Michael King in Court 1 of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria

Welcome to magistrate Michael King in Court 1 of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria

By Steven Sapountsis

Courts 

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May it please the Court. I appear on behalf the Law Institute of Victoria and the Solicitors of this State to welcome Your Honour as a Victorian Magistrate.  

We at the Law Institute have been looking forward to this formal welcome for some time – not only because of the accommodation of our globe-trotting friends on the Bar Executive – but because Your Honour’s appointment to this Court was made on the 2nd of May – when Your Honour was still a Magistrate in Western Australia.  

That Your Honour was a valuable commodity was clear even before then. In April, at the Conference of  Australian Chief Magistrates, Western Australian Chief Magistrate Heath fixed Chief Magistrate Lauritsen in his gaze – and said simply,  “Poacher!”  

There are parallels with the Chief Magistrate’s own  position.  Just as Your Honour began as a Magistrate in Western Australia and served in the vast remoteness of that State; so Chief Magistrate Lauritsen began as a Magistrate in the Northern Territory and sat in remote aboriginal communities at the “top end” and in Central Australia.  

Just as Chief Magistrate Lauritsen may be said to have  “poached” Your Honour from Western Australia; so Chief Magistrate Darcy Dugan “poached” him from the Northern Territory.  

This shared circumstance involves Your Honour now  having traversed the country, coast-to-coast,  in a life on the bench for more than 12 years, from the Indian Ocean to the Southern Ocean - a remarkable career, which is, so to speak, girt by sea.  

Your Honour has the distinction that this is your third appointment as a Magistrate.  

You were appointed to the Western Australian Court in 2000; you resigned in 2007 to go to Monash; you were appointed again in Western Australia in 2010; finally – at least we hope so – you were appointed to this Court.  

With this third and latest appointment as a Magistrate, Your Honour has, in sporting parlance, gone back-to-back-to-back.  

Before your first appointment, you were, for more than 12 years, a Solicitor in Western Australia.  

You began at Kott Gunning, where you served Articles.  The firm describes itself now as “a progressive, independent corporate and commercial law firm”. It certainly did major commercial work in the 1980s, when Your Honour was there – but it had also a general practice.  Your principal, Mr Tolcon, later Justice Tolcon of the Family Court,  describes it then as having something of a maverick streak – fighting for causes.  

Your Honour had there a general practice in criminal,  and also family law.  

Your Honour went from there to be a a solicitor with the Legal Aid Commission of Western Australia.  

After a year or so of Legal Advice Bureau and Duty Counsel work, Your Honour took responsibility for establishing and heading up the first regional office of Legal Aid Western Australia in Broome. Your Honour managed a team that conducted criminal, civil and family law matters throughout the expansive Kimberley region.  

The work was enormously challenging and rewarding, undertaken in an area twice the size of Victoria.  

Your Honour would regularly fly long distances, with the local magistrate, to Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek and Kununurra for circuit work, in a light plane which was light on seating.  

The visiting magistrate sat up front, while Your Honour rode rough in the back, in an enclosed cage which was the police “paddy wagon”.  

On one occasion, the late Sir Francis Burt, on his last circuit as Chief Justice of Western Australia also flew up with you.  Chief Justice Burt had earned his “wings” as an RAAF pilot in the second World War, and flew over Europe.  His Honour took a turn flying light aircraft,  part of the way.  

The Chief Justice was a great jurist, renowned for common sense and decency. He thought it unfit for the local magistrate to be seen landing and disembarking from the paddy wagon.  Accordingly, when he handed the controls back to the pilot,  Chief Justice Burt joined Your Honour in the back- leaving the local magistrate at the front.              

In 1988 Your Honour became a solicitor for the Aboriginal Legal Service in Kununurra, and Your Honour often took to the skies again. One particular journey was on a charter flight to the small, remote Aboriginal community of Balgo.  

Your Honour’s heart sank, as did the plane , when the pilot plunged it into a sudden and steep descent to give a passenger a view of the Wolfe Creek crater, a manoeuvre that had some grasping for paper bags.  

Shortly later, in court, it took all of Your Honour’s considerable equanimity to remain balanced and poised at the bar table.     

In 1990 Your Honour managed a team at the Aboriginal Legal Service, as lead counsel for the family of 16-year-old John Pat in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.  

It was, like so many others of its kind, an extremely difficult case – emotionally draining and administratively massive – with allegations of racism and police misconduct that generated 15,000 pages of court documents and transcripts and hundreds of pages of submissions – something all involved-in will never forget.  

It was after this that Your Honour took some 5 ½ years out from the practice of law, undertaking graduate study in the United States and volunteering in Cambodia, as has been described.  

Your Honour returned to Australia to again work as a solicitor for Legal Aid, this time in the Pilbara Regional Office, until 1997.  

Then, for two years from 1998 Your Honour was the solicitor in charge of the Legal Aid Goldfields Regional Office in Kalgoorlie, where Stephen Wilson – who Your Honour would later join as a magistrate – had his practice.  

Magistrate Wilson recalls that the Legal Aid office ran “like clockwork” under Your Honour’s lead, with a clear goal and focus on ensuring people received aid and fair treatment.  

As well as managing the office and conducting criminal, civil and family casework, Your Honour also:

  • chaired the local community legal centre
  • was a committee member of the sexual assault referral centre
  • conducted community legal education.  

The rest is, as they say, history. Your Honour was, as in October 2000, appointed the Stipendiary Magistrate for Geraldton.  

Much has already been said of Your Honour’s Geraldton Alternative Sentencing Regime.  Western Australian Chief Magistrate Steven Heath described it as, “a holistic and team-based approach to offenders using community resources to address a range of offending-related problems such as alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and gambling”.  

Chief Magistrate Heath observed that, while it lasted, “some outstanding examples of success and supportive external assessment” were achieved with meditation.  

The success of the program was also partly, and tellingly, shown when the pilots and nurses of the Royal Flying Doctor Service reported to head office in Geraldton that the numbers of those of those injured – as a result of random, domestic or alcohol-driven violence – were falling.  

That was because of the ground-breaking work of Your Honour and others, through therapeutic jurisprudence and alternative sentencing.  

Your Honour now sits in a court with a fine reputation for similar pioneering advances in the justice system and with non-adversarial processes, and it can be confidently assumed that Victoria will benefit greatly from Your Honour’s experience, passion and dedication.  

On behalf of the Law Institute of Victoria, and the solicitors of this State, I wish Your Honour a long and successful career in this Court.  

As Mr O’Callaghan did, I now turn briefly to Your Honour Chief Magistrate Lauritsen, and extend the congratulations of the Solicitors of this State on Your Honour’s appointment in May to a dual Commission as a Judge of the County Court.  

As at the Annual Report for the year ending the 30th of June 2015, this Court sat at 51 metropolitan and regional locations.  It was comprised of 96 Magistrates; 13 Reserve Magistrates; 10 Coroners; 8 Judicial Registrars; 624 Staff; and 61 Elders and Respected Persons.  

In that year, Criminal matters initiated rose by 13%; and   Criminal matters finalised rose by 16% - and that was over and above increases of 25% and 26% respectively in the previous financial year.  

In concrete numbers, there were, in round figures, 188 ½ thousand criminal matters finalised in 2012/13 and then 275 ½ thousand criminal matters finalised in 2014/15.  

There has been a similar sort of rise in Intervention Order applications finalised – from just under 44 ½ thousand in 2012/13 to over 72 ½ thousand in 2014/15.  

Approximately 90% of all cases which come before Victorian courts each year are heard in the Magistrates’ Court.  

It is entirely appropriate that Your Honour has, as Chief Magistrate, been honoured with a dual Commission as a Judge of the County Court. The workload of this Court just described may make it difficult for Your Honour to spend very much time away from your responsibilities as the Head of this Court, but perhaps the dual commission itself carries some efficiencies- as Your Honour will be able to hear appeals from you own decisions.  

Again, from the Law Institute of Victoria, and the solicitors of this State, the warmest of congratulations  on Your Honour’s dual commission.  

May it please the court.      

Contact

LIV Media Department

T: 03 9607 9389
E: media@liv.asn.au

 


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