No bias for Dakin
NSW CHIEF Magistrate Graeme Henson says he has 'full faith' in local magistrate, Michael Dakin, after concerns were raised with him by the Far North Coast Law Society.
A number of lawyers from the Northern Rivers have expressed concerns to The Northern Star about a 'perception of bias' issue with Mr Dakin, who has been filling in for Magistrate Jeff Linden at Lismore.
Mr Dakin had a long-standing legal practice in Ballina, Dakin Law, until he was made a magistrate early last year.
Local lawyers, who did not wish to be named, say they and many of their colleagues are concerned and believe the appointment so soon after the magistrate sold a local private practice is 'inappropriate' and has created a 'perception of bias'.
Court reporters from the The Northern Star have witnessed numerous requests by solicitors for the magistrate to disqualify himself due to a perceived conflict of interest.
No lawyer who spoke suggested any lack of ability or integrity on the part of Mr Dakin.
Magistrates serve in their jurisdictions at the direction of the chief magistrate and do not have final say on the place they work at.
Far North Coast Law Society president Clarissa Huegill said she raised the issue with the chief magistrate some weeks ago, but a spokeswoman for the NSW Attorney General's department said both parties were 'satisfied' with Mr Dakin's appointment.
“I've spoken with the chief magistrate and he informs me that they did go into discussions with the president of the Far North Coast Law Society and, as far as we're aware, that the chief magistrate and the president of the Law Society up there are quite satisfied with the appointment and the method of the appointment,” the spokeswoman said.
“It's not uncommon for someone who has been from that local area to be appointed as a magistrate and that's what's happened in this case,” she said. “The chief magistrate certainly has full faith in Magistrate Dakin and we expect him to fulfil his duties in accordance with his oath of office.”
In a story in The Northern Star in January last year, Mr Dakin said new magistrates from the country were not allowed to sit in courts where they had practised as a lawyer for at least two years after their appointment.
But the Attorney General's department, as well as the Law Society of NSW, said no formal rule existed, although that was the general practice.
Mr Dakin declined to comment on the issue.