What’s in a name?
Quite a bit it seems if you live in Darwin and you are the Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court hearing the Falconio murder trial.

According to a report in The Age this morning, the NT Chief Justice Brian Martin is in a huff over a report on the trial – which appeared in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian on the weekend – that portrayed Darwin, in his words, as a “somewhat hick town.”


His
Honour has demanded an apology over the story, which he says is
“objectionable for a number of reasons” – not least that it incorrectly
claimed that, NT Director of Public Prosecutions Rex Wilde QC let his
provincialism show by addressing His Honour by his first name in court.

They
sure are a sensitive lot up north, because Justice Martin wasn’t the only
one outraged by this revelation. Rex Wild QC also told the court of
his family’s “distress” after reading in the Melbourne Age and Sydney Morning Herald that he’d referred to Justice Martin by – shock, horror – his first name.

The
Fairfax papers were represented in court and have removed the offending
stories from their websites. But so far the apologies sought by His
Honour have not been forthcoming from Fairfax, and The Guardian has issued a statement standing by its story (and arguing that it had not intended to denigrate the court and its workings).

The
reason the papers are not apologising is simple – despite requests from
both Crikey and Fairfax, Justice Martin has declined to release the
audio recording of what was said in court. And in the absence of this
evidence, all anyone can go on is His Honour’s assertion that in the
written transcript he is not referred to as Brian.

This morning
Crikey tracked down the author of the offending article, Andrew Clark,
who declined to comment for fear of stirring further tensions. But SMH managing editor Sam North explained the paper’s stance:

“If indeed we are wrong we will be happy to issue a
retraction. We, like Crikey, have applied to hear the audio tape
because there is a genuine difference of opinion as to what was in fact
heard. The transcript agrees with the Chief Justice’s statement that
the first name was not used but a number of journalists, eight as far
as we know, so far have come forward and said they heard the first name
used.”

And according to North, when it comes to eight journos vs a transcript, it’s not possible to make a call.

“Transcripts are often changed by either the judge or the
barrister or people involved in the case during the conduct of the
trial. A transcript involves a human taking down details and
consequently it can lead to human error. As I’m sure the Chief Justice
and anyone who’s been involved with trials will agree. On many
occasions they will be changed after the people involved have had a
chance to read them.”

North also rejects Justice
Martin’s claim that the story made Darwin look like ‘Hicksville’: ”I
don’t think that in any way it could be seen to portray Darwin as
anything other than a city which is conducting the trial. I don’t agree
with the Chief Justice’s suggestions that it portrays Darwin in a
negative light.”

It’s all rather curious and leaves us with the
unusual situation of a Chief Justice assuming a role not unlike that of
a tourism advocate and demanding a correction to newspaper reports that he’s either
unable or unwilling to prove are incorrect.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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