A prominent Darwin attorney has been cleared of professional misconduct and his fears that a Supreme Court judge might be “politically partisan” are well founded, a tribunal found.
- The Law Society NT lost a longstanding battle against Alistair Wyvill SC
- A tribunal found that a judge’s comments may imply a “positive opinion” from the rural liberals
- Mr Wyvill served the former Labor leader in the investigation of Stella Maris
Alistair Wyvill SC worked for former union leader Delia Lawrie in the Northern Territory during the controversial investigation of Stella Maris in 2013 and 2014 initiated by the rural liberals government.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Southwood later made several determinations regarding the policies of Ms. Lawrie and Mr. Wyvill during the investigation into Stella Maris. Lawrie’s appeal for her fairness was denied in a ruling in 2015.
A few months after that decision, Mr. Wyvill wrote a scathing email to his colleagues at the NT Bar Association accusing the judge of harming his reputation for “bad will” against him and demonstrating political bias.
“It has done extraordinary damage to my professional reputation that will be materially irreversible regardless of what I have to say and what any other tribunal that has heard what I have to say might find,” Wyvill said in the E-mail.
“This, in my view, is indicative of malice and questions his qualification as a judge.”
A struggle ensued which divided the legal community of the NT.
The Law Society NT responded last year by filing two complaints against Mr. Wyvill alleging that his comments were inappropriate and unfounded and that Mr. Wyvill also knowingly made misleading or false statements in court documents.
On Friday, the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Court dismissed these complaints and Dean Mildren, acting Supreme Court Justice, denied any further attempt by the Law Society NT to challenge the court’s decision.
In his 2015 ruling, Justice Southwood said that Mr. Wyvill “is pursuing a strategy to make the incredibly grave and utterly unfounded allegation made by the state liberal government [Commissioner John Lawler] on the basis that he would find what they wanted to find “.
Judge Southwood alleged that Mr. Wyvill recommended a strategy to “ignore, eliminate and discredit” the investigation and that Ms. Lawrie’s evidence for the investigation was not truthful.
The judge’s results are “unnecessary”.
The tribunal found, however, that the judge’s comments were not only irrelevant and unnecessary, but could also imply a “positive view” [the] Rural Liberal Party “.
It said comments of Ms. Lawrie’s untruth were not included in the evidence before the judge and his findings were “extremely detrimental” to the reputations of Mr. Wyvill and Ms. Lawrie while benefiting the CLP.
Delia Lawrie resigned as opposition leader shortly after Justice Southwood’s “damaging” results. (ABC News: Steven Schubert)
The tribunal’s findings also mentioned help Wyvill had previously given to a lawyer for the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency who accused Justice Southwood of “bullying and derogatory” behavior.
It found that this could also be a basis for Mr Wyvill’s suggestion that the judge was unsuitable and for his fears about malice.
The tribunal described Mr. Wyvill as a “victim” of the 2015 Supreme Court findings and said he was an “impending, careful, reliable and honest witness” before the tribunal.
Mr. Wyvill’s decision to write to the NT Bar Association about Justice Southwood was “understandable”.
This was particularly the case, said the tribunal, because at this point in time there was no judicial commission in the NT and Mr. Wyvill was not involved in proceedings that made harmful findings against him.
Gunner challenged after “harmful” findings
Shortly after Justice Southwood’s 2015 ruling, Michael Gunner launched a challenge against Ms. Lawrie and she resigned, while Mr. Wyvill resigned as president of the NT Bar Association.
The Stella Maris investigation looked at Labor’s offer to provide Unions NT with an extended rent-free lease for the Grade II listed Stella Maris site in central Darwin.
The conduct of former Land Secretary Gerry McCarthy and Ms. Lawrie was criticized in the investigation’s final report for lack of transparency and accountability, but Commissioner Lawler found no evidence of “corrupt” behavior.
The Disciplinary Court found that Commissioner Lawler found that Ms. Lawrie “may have truly believed that the granting of the site to Union NT was solely in the public interest”.
An appeal against Justice Southwood’s decision to reject the procedural justice arguments heard by three interstate judges failed in 2016, but the verdict found that statements about the honesty of Mr. Wyvill and Ms. Lawrie were unnecessary.
In a statement, Mr. Wyvill’s lawyers told ABC that their client welcomed the tribunal’s decision to dismiss the allegations of misconduct.
“The decision speaks for itself,” said the statement.
To avoid conflicts of interest, former Tasmanian Supreme Court Justice Peter Evans presided over the tribunal.
A response was requested from the NT Law Society.