Courier Mail, The (Brisbane), 04/08/2004, pg. 1

A FRESH brawl has broken out among Queensland magistrates over a decision to shut down the courts over three days next year for a conference timed so they can attend a State of Origin rugby league match in Brisbane.

Senior magistrates have outraged some colleagues in by-passing proper procedure to schedule the Queensland Magistrates Annual Conference to coincide with the football game.

The timing of the conference, announced in an e-mail from Deputy Chief Magistrate Brian Hine last Friday, has reconfirmed discontent within the ranks of the magistracy with an ensuing vitriolic exchange among some magistrates.

Brisbane magistrate Sheryl Cornack responded to news of the conference date with an attack on the hierarchy of the lower court system in Queensland and on the game of rugby league itself.

“I personally believe that football is a highly pervasive and ultimately anti-social form of institutionalised and celebrated violence that should not be supported, encouraged, or celebrated by the

judiciary,” she told Mr Hine.

Problems between members of the magistracy were publicly aired last year culminating in a row which saw then chief magistrate Di Fingleton sent to prison.

Ms Cornack’s reaction to the conference announcement drew the scorn of Cairns-based magistrate Trevor Black who, in an e-mail to Mr Hine, accused Ms Cornack of fuelling “bitterness and dissension” within the ranks of the 81-member magistracy.

In e-mails obtained by The Courier-Mail, Ms Cornack even warns Mr Hine that it was dangerous to detail the reason behind the timing of the conference.

About 30 magistrate centres are closed every year around the state for three days for the “professional development” conference covering legislative changes and emerging judicial issues.

“We have had enough public beatings,” Ms Cornack wrote. “Even if this was the reason for the change, I would have thought it more prudent to leave that information out of the e-mail. I shudder to think of the possible headlines!”

In his e-mail, Mr Hine told his fellow magistrates the conference would be held from May 23-25 to coincide with a possible State of Origin rugby league fixture.

“These dates were chosen because of a suggestion from the co-ordinating magistrates meeting that the conference be held at the time of State of Origin football,” he said in the e-mail leaked to The Courier-Mail.

Chief Magistrate Marshall Irwin, who replaced Ms Fingleton, yesterday denied the conference had turned into a junket with the push for magistrates to attend the football match on the night of the last day of the conference.

“It is not a junket because (attending the game) will not take magistrates away from any conference activity and the timing will not affect the cost,” he said.

Mr Irwin conceded there may be some legitimate concerns that the planning committee for the conference may have been “circumvented” by the push from the co-ordinating magistrates, who administer the workings of the courts in each region, to hold the event to coincide with a State of Origin match.

“That was not an intentional exercise,” he said.

Attorney-General Rod Welford said the timing of the conference was at the discretion of the Chief Magistrate but that he was surprised by the renewed fighting between magistrates.

“You would have thought that past experience would have been enough to demonstrate to all magistrates for the need for personal discipline,” he said.

Mr Black, who has attended the past two State of Origin clashes in Brisbane, last night said he would probably go to the game if he attended the annual conference.

“This is not a junket, it is the hardest three days of work for any magistrate,” Mr Black said.

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Copyright 2004 / Courier Mail