The Courier-Mail’s follow-ups to the Justinian story about
plagiarising Federal Magistrate Jennifer Rimmer have had a distinctly
bloodthirsty edge to them.
Both Friday’s and Saturday’s stories have lamented
the fact that “federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Chief Magistrate John
Pascoe are powerless to act” to sack Rimmer, but don’t make space to point out
that this is an important constitutional safeguard protecting judicial
independence.

And in its determination to go for Rimmer, the
weekend yarn had
a curious split personality. The first seven paragraphs were devoted to reporting
the failure of Rimmer to “take the honourable step” and resign; while the final
eight paragraphs focus on the grim lot of the Brisbane Federal Magistrate,
brought about by the Federal Government’s failure to provide adequate resources
to the federal magistracy in Queensland.

Rimmer has cited the
resulting heavy case load as a reason for her doing a cut and paste job on
another magistrate’s work, but The Courier-Mail showed no mercy, and kept the
two issues separate. Journalists do like scalps – it confirms the might of the
pen and the hack who wields it, while greatly increasing the chance of picking
up some sort of journalism gong.

It is possible that
Rimmer’s appointment was an irredeemably bad one, beyond
salvation. It is also entirely
possible that the public humiliation, two months of counselling, and some back
up resources could see Rimmer go on to serve out a useful judicial career – the
view taken by a couple of legal types Crikey contacted in recent days. This
matter also raises the important debates to be had about how the judiciary is
appointed, about judicial training and resourcing, and about how and when
judicial officers should be removed. Just don’t look for it in the pages of a
rampaging tabloid.

UPDATE: Following
Crikey’s Friday story, the Courier is no longer claiming that it “broke” this
yarn. The link it provides to its first story, to be found at the bottom of this
article,
has been changed to read “Flashback: How The Courier-Mail reported the
story”. And in
fairness to the Courier, while surfing its site on the weekend, Crikey noticed
this editorial from Thursday,
which did mention the Justinian’s reporting of the story.

Peter Fray

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