A Barrister's Blog

The lighter side of law


Secret Santa


Posted on Nov 27, 2018

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
‘Tis the reason to be jolly 

It’s not that difficult to imagine how an office Christmas party might get out of hand and many of you will remember last year’s post about Mr Keenan. However, short of truly cringeworthy or inappropriate gifts (sex toys and the like…. does this still happen?), you might expect that the humble Secret Santa between work mates would be in the right spirit and generally be a source of goodwill…. apparently not.

In 2012, there was a secret santa in the office of the Finance Department in Canberra. One worker’s kris kringle gift to his work colleague was a toy reindeer which pooped chocolate. I would have thought that might elicit a smile or two. However, the gift’s recipient (now a former analyst) interpreted it as a commentary on the quality of his work which implied that his economic modelling was “reindeer pooh”. Feeling targeted, humiliated and traumatised at the “soul destroying” prank, the analyst reluctantly accepted a redundancy from his position about 6 months later.

This case received coverage in the press at the time and also prompted a November 2015 directive from the Australian Public Service Commission about work-related end-of-year functions which, the APS reminded its members “are a time for colleagues to come together and celebrate the festive season“. However, public service employees were also encouraged to be mindful of: “buying ‘Secret Santa’ gifts on the assumption that everyone shares the same sense of humour“.

Shout out to Mariette Lewis for finding this story for me. Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

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Package Deal


Posted on Oct 30, 2018

Many people don’t realise that section 262 of the Migration Act creates a “liability to the Commonwealth for the cost of keeping, maintaining and removing certain persons“. What this basically means, is that if you are unfortunate enough to be taken into immigration detention you are going to have to pay for it. It also means that “appropriate arrangements” have to made in respect of outstanding debts, if any future visa applications are to be successful.

From 30 June 2018, the daily maintenance amount is $489.11 per person, for “accomodation” in onshore detention facilities (see Legislative Instrument 18/022: “Determination of Daily Maintenance Amounts for Persons in Detention Instrument 2018”).   That amount is intended to cover:

  • the cost of keeping and maintaining the person in immigration detention
  • the cost of transporting and securing the person between the vessel and to the place of detention, and the cost of transporting the person between detention facilities.
  • if the person is to be removed from Australia at the cost of the Commonwealth, the cost of that removal and the cost of transporting the person who is securing the person being removed. 

According to the website of the 5 star Westin Hotel in Martin Place, the mid-week rate (at the time of writing this post) for a superior room with breakfast was $385/night. That rate of course doesn’t include airport transfers and a one way flight.

Creative commons acknowledgement for the photograph.

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The Judgment


Posted on Sep 28, 2018

I recently read Sir Frank Kitto’s article “Why Write Judgments” which appeared in (1992) 66 ALJ 787. Many of my posts over the years have been about amusing things that Judges have written. However, the anecdote about an after dinner speech urging the High Court to put more colour into its written work really made me smile:

In the dead of night, on All Hallows Eve, on a lonely road illumined  by the wan light of a dying moon and winding serpent-like through the trees that stood as ghostly sentinels soon to become silent witnesses of stark and bloody tragedy …. Therefore this appeal should be dismissed with contempt as well as with costs.”

I actually read the article in the context of an “award” that I have to write for an Arbitration course that I’m doing. Writing like that might not go over too well with the examiners.

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

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The Rabbit


Posted on Aug 27, 2018

I like gardening. I recently purchased some rhaphiolepsis snow maiden and liriope as 10 cm tube stock for winter planting. Unfortunately my purchase did not go unnoticed by a “pesky wabbit” who decided to treat my new plants as its personal salad bar (some of them are down to about 2cm). Feeling like a hybrid of Elmer Fudd and Mr MacGregor (think Peter Rabbit), I checked out the council website to see if they could assist. There was some interesting information including that:

  1. council have an active rabbit and fox baiting (and shooting) program and apparently, rabbits are not a menu item for foxes (so decreasing fox numbers doesn’t result in increased rabbit numbers);
  2. I could report my rabbit (or fox) sighting on www.feralscan.org.au (or its associated app), which I did (although it wasn’t going to fix my problem);
  3. the Rural Lands Act says that a land owner is responsible for pests on their land. While I had my doubts that the Act applied in suburban Lindfield (and in any event it has been repealed and replaced with the Bio-security Act), the message was clear enough i.e. “don’t call the council”;
  4. rabbits don’t like the smell of blood and bone (they’re not alone) and spreading that around can help. You can also boil up a mixture of garlic and chilli (with a dash of tobasco) to spray on the tasty plants to deter the rabbit; and
  5. there was a warning that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act applies i.e. while council can poison and shoot, residents are limited to stinking them out and are otherwise prohibited from hurting them.

I actually did email the council and eventually received an invitation to undertake a Vertebrate Pesticide Training Course (1080 and Pindone) to allow me to bait on my own property (but I would also need a permit from the Australian Pesticides & Veterinary Medicines Authority because the property is smaller than 1000sqm). I would then have to go to the council depot to pick up the poison carrot. I wasn’t that keen on those ideas. However, council was also offering the option of borrowing a cage trap. I would have to take the trapped rabbit (if any) to a specific local vet hospital so that the $45 euthanasia fee would be paid by the council. Apparently 6 rabbits (making huge impact on local population) have met their end this way. 

The good news is that I haven’t seen the rabbit for a couple of weeks. Either the deterrents worked or its found tastier gardens or ….

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

 

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F-unconscionable?


Posted on Jul 25, 2018

This is the third post in 4 months with an “f-word” theme. In part it demonstrates that we have moved on from obscene language in Adelaide in 1979. It is also topical with the Banking Royal Commission in full swing. The use of the “f-word” was one of the matters that led to Beach J finding that Westpac had engaged in unconscionable conduct in his 2539 paragraph judgment in ASIC v Westpac (No 2) [2018] FCA 751.

It was the following recorded comment by the bank’s head of global treasury that caught ASIC’s attention [at 996]: “I knew it was completely wrong but I thought f*** it, I may as well f*** it.  We’ve got so much money on it, we just had to do it, right.  Just had to be done.”

His Honour did (at [937]):

“….say something concerning the vernacular of the traders. And it concerns the use of the “f***” word and its various derivatives. There is little doubt that linguistic Darwinism has favoured the English language. And part of its natural advantage springs not only from its capacity to either create vocabulary or unashamedly appropriate it from elsewhere, but its subsequent diverse and rich deployment. The “f***” word and its use by the traders in the present context is a classic example. It has been used as both a transitive and intransitive verb. It has been used in an active sense and a passive sense. It has been used in the past tense and the future tense. It has been used as an adjective. It has been used as a noun including as a verbal noun. Someone even tried to use it as an adverb. Occasionally it has been deployed not in any context that a formal grammarian would encourage, but simply to reflect an emotional response. Sometimes disappointment or exasperation, sometimes pleasant surprise or even admiration. Sometimes criticism, sometimes positive reinforcement. Even more occasionally, it has been used to indelicately communicate the thought that caution was being thrown to the wind. Clearly, the “f***” word and its derivatives are not terms of art in the finance industry. Nevertheless, their use in otherwise polite conversation appears to have been well understood by the colourful interlocutors.”

There were submissions on what the global treasury head had meant by his comments. His Honour found:

(at [1007]): “….But I am more inclined to the view that he was acknowledging that he was doing something wrong.”;

(at [1010]): “It is contended that his use in this sentence, twice, of “f*** it” was not as an active verb but rather as a statement that he had “no option” but to hedge his exposure to the RBA decision by reducing his risk position. That is, he was saying that he thought he may as well hedge the risk position given its size and the uncertainty of the RBA decision and the words “f*** it” were exclamations reflecting his thought process – as in “to hell with it” or “I may as well take the chance”. Now Westpac accepts that there is no discernible pause between “I may as well” and the second “f*** it”, but it says that grammatically a pause is not necessarily required and, in any event, both Mr XXX and Ms YYY were speaking so rapidly and informally and so much over the top of each other that the absence of one is unremarkable.”; and

(at [1012]) “I disagree with Westpac’s analysis. True it is that Mr XXX’s use of the “f***” word and its derivatives was rich and diverse. He had a sense for every occasion. But it seems to me that on balance the f*** word was being used here with its classic active transitivity.”

So, what does all that mean? That there was unconscionable conduct (obviously, I think).

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph

 

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Dark Look


Posted on Jun 25, 2018

The headnote of Hargraves v Eveston [2018] NSWSC 505 says it all.  It was, according to Hamill J, “unpleasant litigation” where Mrs Hargraves sued her daughter for $1.7M. The warring parties were the only witnesses and “neither presented as a witness of particular credit“. His Honour made the following observations at:

  1. Meanwhile, and sadly, these financial shenanigans have taken their toll on the personal relationships within the family. ….and it is now apparent that the relationship between mother and daughter has been badly damaged. When the parties gave their evidence, people in the back and side of the courtroom, who I take to be other members of the family, made their feelings clear by their visceral and ostensible reactions. There were dark looks across the public gallery. There was scoffing, tsk-tsking, and rolling of eyes. None of this matters very much, at least from a legal perspective, although the palpable, personal hostility between the parties impacted on their credibility and made their demeanour difficult to assess.

Some mothers do have them!

Shout out to Elleni Zacharia for telling me about this case. Elleni works as a part time paralegal in my chambers. If anyone’s looking for a bright and personable graduate lawyer for next year, I’d be happy to give her a reference.

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

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