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By Aja Styles, WA Today
West Australian Attorney-General John Quigley and his legal advisors have been caught in the centre of an unprecedented dispute between the president of the Children’s Court and one of his magistrates.
Magistrate Catherine Crawford has brought before the Supreme Court an improper purpose lawsuit against her court’s president, Judge Hylton Quail, claiming he sought the endorsement of her removal from the Children’s Court through the Attorney-General.
But Judge Quail’s defending barrister David Grace QC painted a very different picture of what occurred, saying his client took measured steps in rightly seeking advice of the government executive about how best to handle Ms Crawford’s case.
Mr Grace said Ms Crawford had “a pattern of behaviour that had continued over the years of doctoring reports of experts that have been provided to the court over matters magistrate Crawford presided”.
He accused her of continued interference in the administration of justice by “making wholesale amendments to reports and sending back to report writers for endorsement”, while not reporting her actions to the parties involved.
Ms Crawford’s lawyer said in his opening address that Judge Quail had “lost confidence” in Ms Crawford over a case involving two Aboriginal youths in Banksia Detention Centre, in which one inflicted a serious unlawful wounding to another and she deferred sentencing so the prosecution could seek a victim impact statement.
Mr Grace said the night before proceedings in the August 2020 case, Ms Crawford had ordered the court history of the victim of the unlawful wounding and saw a youth assessment report dated April 7, 2020, that detailed he had foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Yet on the day of sentencing she did not reveal to the court that she had an abundance of material on the victim and instead said, “I don’t know anything about the victim”, and wanted a victim impact statement in case the victim had “a special vulnerability”.
Judge Quail found her actions disingenuous and gave her an opportunity to explain on August 24, to which she answered that she did not have to answer to him, the court heard.
“At the end of the day it’s the responsibility of the court, not a judicial officer sitting in chambers to acquire this information,” Mr Grace said.
Mr Grace said it will be tendered to the court that Ms Crawford made notes and annotations on the material she already had, which went against the interests of justice.
Mr Grace told the court on Tuesday that Ms Crawford also reduced staff to tears and her aggressive conduct had caused eight staff to threaten to resign, leading to a toxic workplace.
Judge Quail wrote to the Attorney-General and solicitor general in late October that the Children’s Court environment had deteriorated so badly he no longer had a working relationship with Ms Crawford and was seeking a hastened appointment of a new magistrate and for Ms Crawford to be moved to the Perth Magistrates Court.
It was on the advice of the solicitor general in early December that he wrote to Ms Crawford that she would no longer sit on Children’s Court matters and to pack up her chambers.
Ms Crawford is expected to testify on Tuesday that Judge Quail subjected her to bullying, harassment and humiliation in her permanent removal to Fremantle Magistrates Court in February 2021, where a Children’s Court magistrate had never exclusively sat before.
Her barrister, Grant Donaldson SC, spent most of Monday outlining a timeline that he said demonstrated a “calculated” plan to remove his client from her exclusive and permanent position in the Perth Children’s Court, which included the announcement of the new magistrate who took over her chambers in January.
A series of letters that passed between Judge Quail, Mr Quigley and the Solicitor General, Joshua Thomson SC, from September to December 2020 set out to transfer Ms Crawford to another set of courts.
Mr Donaldson called it extraordinary for a judge to, in effect, engage with the executive government to orchestrate a magistrate’s removal, which left Ms Crawford feeling “her standing and reputation in the Children’s Court was seriously compromised”.
“A great deal was happening behind her back,” Mr Donaldson said.
Following the August 20 sentencing incident, Judge Quail notified Ms Crawford she was not to act on behalf of the Children’s Court and had court staff monitor her calls and emails, during which he wrote to Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk that Ms Crawford was no longer a representative of his court.
In emails in early December to Chief Magistrate Steven Heath, arguments were made whether even Mr Heath could compel Ms Crawford to take up chambers and return to the Perth Magistrates central law courts, to which Judge Quail made it clear that a magisterial appointment was being made to the Children’s Court and the retirement of Magistrate Richard Bailey would leave him a judge short.
At the same time Ms Crawford was made aware by Judge Quail that her position would cease on January 21 and she would transfer back to Perth Magistrates Court, but she refused to go.
In response, Ms Crawford wrote to Judge Quail saying while the many months of tension came down to disloyalty, for his honour, “from my perspective it’s been harassing, intimidatory and bullying”, the court heard.
It was in February she was notified that her chambers would be moved to the Fremantle court.
Judge Quail plans to also give evidence, as well as former Children’s Court president and Chief Judge Julie Wager, retired president and judge Denis Reynolds, and two Children’s Court staff. A sixth witness has yet to be named.
The trial continues.