Earlier this year, I reported on the tragic circumstances of a young child’s appearance before Local Court Judge Greg Borchers in Tennant Creek. The child was without doubt no innocent — as he appeared before the court he’d racked up at least $3800 in fines from previous court appearances — but his personal and domestic circumstances were terrible.
As I noted at the time, the 13-year-old’s:
“… mother was killed following an horrendous and sustained assault. His father has been charged with his mother’s murder and that matter has yet to proceed to a trial … [in] June 2017 the child appeared before Judge Greg Borchers in the Tennant Creek Youth Court, entering a guilty plea to damaging a government car, the doorway of the local bank and damage to a restaurant committed over two days in late May 2017. The child had more that $3,800 in outstanding fines from previous offences and was under a good behaviour bond imposed in March 2017.”
There is perhaps no more thankless job in the the Northern Territory judicial system than that of a judge of the Local Court. That the law generally can be a toxic profession is without doubt, but the legal sausage factory that is the lowest-ranked in the NT court system is both the front line and the front door of the judicial system. Most matters — from the most gruesome of murders to the most benign of assaults — pass through its doors.
Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey
Choose what you pay, from $99.
The Mad-Monday bail and arrest sessions are perhaps the most dramatic manifestation of just how chaotic the Local Court can be on a busy day. While most of us are staggering off for a late start after a big weekend, lawyers, prosecutors and judges front up for the 9am start to process the weekend’s other tragics: the drunk drivers, the partner-bashers and robbers who’ve all ended up in custody after making some very wrong decisions.
Lawyers come and go from the Court, weighed down by stacks of files and providing the quickest of advice to their clients before ducking down to the court cells or scuttling back to their offices — some clients are contrite and shamed, others just plain confused or still angry and hungover. But through all of this chaos the one constant is the judge on the bench. Some Monday bail-and-arrest sessions last for hours and — as a quick perusal of the daily lists for the Local Court in Darwin or Alice Springs can attest—the litany of matters before the court can be bewildering and fundamentally depressing for even the most glass-half-full optimist.
As I noted in June this year, Judge Greg Borchers’ treatment of the 13-year-old in the Tennant Creek Youth Justice Court was extraordinary. And I was not alone. The NT News editorialised at the time:
“It is difficult to convey just how upsetting comments made by Northern Territory Judge Greg Borchers to the 13-year-old son of a murder victim were … Judge Borchers displayed no sympathy – or basic compassion – for a young child facing a heartbreak few will ever experience … Judge Borchers’ approach appeared to centre upon retribution, not rehabilitation, or both. That is in no one’s best interests. Frustration at youth offenders is understandable. But throwing the book at vulnerable kids and leaving them to rot in prison is not the only solution.”