Justice James Allsop, the new president of the NSW Court of Appeal who starts his new appointment today, is already earning the nickname “The Admiral”. A judge of the Federal Court since 2001, Allsop was a surprise selection for the second highest judicial office in NSW (Chief Justice is the No 1 gig). He swooped over the heads of a number of highly recommended candidates from the NSW Supreme Court and, as if to further upset the sniffy NSW judicial club, he was poached from the Federal Court which is regarded by many as an “inferior” court. Allsop’s legal expertise is awkwardly narrow. He was one of the 13 designated admiralty and maritime judges on the Federal Court and he also acted as the admiralty registry convening judge and admiralty list judge. He was convenor of the admiralty committee of the court which advises the Australian Chief Justice in connection with Admiralty and a member of the board of governors of the World Maritime University in Malmo, Sweden and is a lecturer (part-time) in commercial maritime law at the University of Sydney. He has been a member of the Maritime Law Association of Australia and New Zealand since 1981 and is the presiding member of the Admiralty Rules Committee set up under the Admiralty Act 1988 to advise the Commonwealth Attorney-General about the Admiralty Rules. The number of admiralty cases before the NSW Court of Appeal in the last few years could be counted on the fingers of one hand, so what’s going on? Perhaps there’s a clue in the July 2005 verdict of the full bench of the Federal Court which lambasted the Department of Immigration over the treatment of 21-year-old Bangladeshi student Muhabab Alam. The court found that Alam had been subjected to a search without warrant, arrest, interrogation and incarceration – even though he had a valid visa! Allsop, the senior presiding judge, said:

My reaction to it, and I will only speak for myself about this, frankly, is outrage. The idea that Immigration Department officers could come to private premises without a search warrant and without even any reason to suspect that this respondent lived there or had done anything wrong, and ransack his belongings; and on the strength of that, take him away involuntarily, I ask myself if that is something that is tolerated?

Why do we bother to have legal provisions dealing with search warrants and where somebody has to before a magistrate to make out a case? Are officers of the Department to be treated as above the law?

Allsop, a winner of the Sydney University law medal circa 1980, is stepping onto the bridge to succeed the good and great Keith Mason whose farewell speech last Friday was a magnificent broadside at Chief Justice Murray Gleeson’s “haughty” and “blinkered” High Court of Australia. (See Richard Ackland’s Justinian.com.au)

Mason will be a hard act for The Admiral to follow.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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