All too often judges are criticised for being pompous and out of touch with the community. While this accusation is grossly unfair, it is understandable that the image remains because of the way in which the legal profession fawns over the judiciary when writing or speaking about them.
One nauseating example of this undesirable habit is to be found in last February’s edition of the Queensland Law Society’s journal, The Proctor. The President of Queensland’s Court of Appeal, Justice Margaret McMurdo, is featured in a four-page splash written by Russell Grenning, the QLS’s corporate relations adviser.
Margaret McMurdo seems a thoroughly decent, progressive and compassionate individual, but Greening’s flowery literary style does her no favours. Read this article and one could be excused for thinking that McMurdo is actually super-human.
Grenning makes no bones about the fact that he is an unashamed admirer. Her Honour Justice Margaret McMurdo is “always informed, ever articulate and reflecting both scholarly insights and a deep human compassion,” slobbers Grenning.
Grenning’s interview with McMurdo takes place in “her elegant chambers, which had an almost indefinably feminine air — perhaps simply because she was there”. And what was she wearing, despite it being a stinking hot Brisbane day — “her Honour was cool and crisp in a smartly tailored white suit”. Of course she was — no doubt a suitable choice of clothes for someone so angelic!
But wait, there’s more. McMurdo is married to another Queensland Supreme Court judge and if her starry-eyed interviewer is to be believed, it is a marriage made in heaven. “Their marriage is the envy of many”, writes Grenning, and their respective professional careers are described as “sweetness, light and synergy”.
Hard to believe that such forelock-tugging stuff gets written in this day and age. But unfortunately, when it comes to writing and talking about judges, Grenning is not alone.
When judges are appointed or when they retire they are lauded by their carefully selected cheer squad of SCs, QCs and other legal luminaries in the most extraordinary way. Take, for example, this extract from the chairman of the Victorian Bar’s speech when Supreme Court judge Frank Callaway retired.
“The breadth and depth of Your Honour’s reading and interests are remarkable –beyond law to philosophy, theology, history and novels,” said Bar Chairman Michael Shand, appearing to forget that millions of Australians read widely and are capable of pursuing many interests outside their work.
Or what about these comments made at the welcome to new Federal Court Judge, Michelle Gordon recently. “Let me begin, however, with a lament. The bar has lost one of its leaders who has done so much. We will miss Your Honour greatly. The court has gained a judge of special character.”
Of course, if we insist on calling judges Your Honour and using ridiculously quaint expressions such as “If Your Honour pleases” in addressing a court, it’s no wonder that the deification of the judiciary is alive and well in Australia today.