Celebrated art critic and historian Robert Hughes died this week.
None of the many generous obits I have read have mentioned Hughes’s obscure and incidental career as a legal critic.
Let’s fix that.
In 1999 Hughes nearly died in a car accident near Broome, Western Australia. During his painful recuperation he was charged with driving offences arising out of that accident. He initially contested the charges but ultimately pleaded guilty.
In the interim passengers from the other vehicle offered (on the sly of course) to change their evidence in exchange for payment from Hughes. They were duly charged conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
Hughes, the baby brother of ex-federal attorney general “Frosty Tom” Hughes QC, was scathing about the whole episode. Among those he took a swipe at was the barrister who prosecuted him, Indian-born, Western Australian barrister Lloyd Rayney.
Hughes, among other things, allegedly described Rayney as a “curry muncher.”
Rayney then sued Hughes for defamation (which ultimately settled privately).
Coincidentally Rayney is now back in court again in a personal capacity. He is currently standing trial in Perth charged with the murder of his wife, Supreme Court Registrar Corryn Rayney. (See the WA News account here).
Rayney will be hoping for a better run in his murder trial from WA’s Director of Public Prosecutions than that accorded in another Perth murder trial to Paul Mallard.
Mallard was convicted of murder in 1995. The High Court subsequently overturned the conviction finding the prosecution had overcooked its case by failing to disclose important exculpatory evidence to the defence. (See an account of the High Court decision at Kyle McDonald’s summary crime blog).
Just how overcooked was the prosecution case against Mallard?
Pretty. Just last month (17 years after the event!) the prosecuting counsel copped a plea before WA’s Legal Profession Complaints Committee to unsatisfactory professional conduct and agreed that the maximum applicable fine was appropriate. (The Committee’s decision here was pointed out to me by the doyen of Melbourne’s legal bloggers Stephen Warne).
What would Robert Hughes have made of this?
Maybe we already know.
He once said “Western Australian justice is to ‘justice’ what Western Australian culture is to ‘culture’.”
Farewell Robert Hughes. At least outside WA you will be missed.
Hughes did indeed make the “curry muncher” comment. I heard it on Radio National at the time – on The World Today. I actually contacted the WA DP at the time to let them know about it. I’ve never understood why the ABC never checked their archive, when Hughes denied the comment on “Enough Rope” years later.
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