Federal Magistrate Jennifer Rimmer is not the only
player in the legal plagiarism story with a taste for other people’s work. In
fact, if newspapers could be done for theft, The Courier-Mail might beat the rap
on a legal technicality, but only just.

Newspapers across the land are this morning
reporting that Ms Rimmer has been stood down for two-months of “additional training,
counselling and appropriate mentoring” after pinching parts of a judgment of
Melbourne Federal Magistrate John Walters in a sexual harassment judgement she
belatedly handed down.

The Courier
has
claimed
the yarn as its own since Hedley Thomas wrote a version of
it last
Saturday. But the story had been reported in full, with links to the copycat
judgement and the original, by Richard Ackland’s Justinian eight days earlier
on 10 March. In that story (subscribers only), Justinian
reporter, the feisty “Miss Ginger Snatch”,
wrote that Rimmer “is an admirer of the craftsmanship” of Magistrate Walters.
“So much so that in her reasons for judgment in Frith v The Exchange
Hotel she carefully copied out at least 25 paragraphs from an earlier
judgment by Walters in Hughes v Car Buyers Pty
Ltd.”

In short, Justinian had the whole box and dice. All the Courier did was add
some predictably outraged quotes from the losing party, hotel owner Martin
Brindley. But that’s not the impression the paper has conveyed to its readers.
Go to today’s story and you will find a link at the bottom to the paper’s first story, which is
billed: “Flashback: How The Courier-Mail broke the story”.

No it didn’t, although it’s true the paper has
pursued it with some vigour. So what’s this fig leaf covering the
Courier‘sprofessional virtue? Go back to that first story, scroll right down to
the bottom, where you’ll find this final sentence: “The plagiarism claims first surfaced on the Justinian website, to which
lawyers and judges subscribe.” (In fact, Justinian is a public site, open to all
comers.) A black letter law defence but guilty of breaking the spirit of the law?
Perhaps some of the Courier’s senior editorial staff could join Ms Rimmer for
some “counselling and appropriate mentoring”.

Peter Fray

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