Michael Jarrett is sworn in by Chief Federal Magistrate Diana Bryant in 2004. Picture: Suzanna Clarke
Michael Jarrett is sworn in by Chief Federal Magistrate Diana Bryant in 2004. Picture: Suzanna Clarke

Years of delays: Is this our slowest judge?

A TARDY Brisbane judge is sitting on almost 40 overdue judgments in the Federal Circuit Court, in some cases taking up to four years to deliver justice.

Official complaints about overdue judgments in the court - which handles family law, bankruptcy, immigration and industrial cases - spiked by 22 per cent in the past financial year and comprised more than a quarter of all complaints to the court.

In one case, the owner of a shipping company, Harold Van Haltren, waited almost four years for Judge Michael Jarrett's decision in his case.

It is understood that Judge Jarrett has almost 40 overdue judgments, which flies in the face of the court's three-month benchmark.

Judge Jarrett, who was appointed to the Federal Circuit Court at the age of 38 in 2004 and is entitled to a base salary of $387,230, handed down a decision in Mr Van Haltren's case this week after News Queensland inquired about the extraordinary delay.

Judge Michael Jarrett was appointed to the Federal Circuit Court in 2004.
Judge Michael Jarrett was appointed to the Federal Circuit Court in 2004.

An FCC spokeswoman did not offer an explanation, but said Chief Judge William Alstergren was working to resolve Judge Jarrett's tardiness.

"(The chief judge is) aware of the issue regarding Judge Jarrett's overdue judgments and is working closely with the judge to ensure all outstanding decisions will be handed down," she said.

"The chief judge acknow­ledges the impact that delay has on litigants."

In 2017-18, the Queensland Law Society had 112 requests for help from members who had raised concerns about delayed judgments across all state and federal courts. Of those, 42 related to the FCC.

Judge Jarrett has delivered four judgments this month pertaining to hearings or final submissions in the court over a year ago.

Mr Van Haltren, fleet master of Sierra Fleet Services, said he was thrilled to have finally won his legal battle after waiting since March 2015, when Judge Jarrett reserved his decision on claims Sierra underpaid an engineer.

"Justice delayed is justice denied. We want to move forward and not be constantly judged by claims by the Fair Work Ombudsman," Mr Van Haltren told T he Courier-Mail. "It caused the company and myself a high degree of harm.

"A dock worker in a pub who thought he knew the facts of the case tried to throw a punch at me the other day."

 

 
 

 

Mr Van Haltren emailed the judge's associate in March to ask when a decision might be handed down, but was told they were "unable to advise as to when judgment will be delivered".

This highlights the lack of recourse litigants have over slow-moving justice.

More than a quarter of all complaints to the FCC last financial year (66 out of 253) were about overdue judgments, according to the annual report. This compares with 54 overdue judgment complaints in 2016-17.

The court's own annual report states it "has a protocol that sets a benchmark of three months, and matters that are outside this benchmark are actively monitored by the chief judge's chambers".

"It is of concern that the largest number of complaints is in relation to outstanding decisions,'' the 2017-18 FCC annual report said.

Queensland Law Society president Ken Taylor said the organisation believes these "unacceptable" delays are the result of a lack of adequate funding to the courts - "a concern we have raised with the Federal Government".

He said more funding was desperately needed to catch up with the burgeoning backlog and to develop a scheme to reduce waiting times from the commencement of hearings, including trials, and subsequent judgments.