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JUSTICE JEFFREY SPENDER (Retired)


— Australia's most notorious federal court judge —


TOPICS:


  A Tainted History
  The Perfect Pawn
  Nolle Prosequi Silk Judicial Office
  Fitzgerald Inquiry (1987-89)
  Section 408(C) Fraud
  Finally Charged
  A Bitter Retirement

A Tainted History

Justice Jeffrey Ernest John Spender retired as a federal court judge in 2010 after 26 years on the Bench a term of judicial office that served only to cap an extensive history of questionable conduct within the Australian legal system.

Even before his appointment as a Justice of the Federal Court of Australia he had begun tainting his career with dishonesty and fraud. The following link is an excerpt from Chapter One of Beneath The Bench. It is a clear indicator of that dishonesty and fraudulent conduct; and on this particular occasion he was acting as Crown prosecutor in the Russell Island conspiracy case.

Having read that excerpt it becomes patently clear that Jeffrey Spender (as prosecutor) had allegedly acted with criminal intent in order to protract that trial for the sole purpose of defrauding the public purse. And no other criminal trial in Australia's legal history had ever run for 316 sitting days over a 20-month period. There were eight defendants (accused). It was the early 1980s.

The Queensland Fraud Squad had originally indicted 16 defendants under "Conspiracy to defraud the public". And as you have read, Jeffrey Spender dropped this charge against seven of the more high profile defendants such as a lawyer and high ranking politician. He later released another defendant who was about to receive a Papal Knighthood, but continued to vehemently argued his right to stay with the erroneous charges of Conspiracy.

Spender's refusal to convert the trial from Conspiracy (which could never have been proved) to eight individual False Pretences charges had financially prospered not only himself but defence counsel as well; each of whom was paid by the Public Defenders Office to represent the eight accused. As humourously stated by one of the defence counsel, Mr Jim Barbeler, "I still refer to an extension on our home as the Russell Island wing".

But it was not just the duration of the 20-month trial that prospered the legal parties involved; the Committal proceedings prior to trial had lasted for three months. And then there was their involvement with the defendants from the time charges were laid in October 1979. The feeding frenzy had lasted for the better part of 40 months (i.e. 3 years 4 months)... well done, Jeffrey.

The Perfect Pawn

Most of us would face multiple charges under Section 408(C) Fraud of the Queensland Criminal Code for having dishonestly obtained a financial advantage for ourselves and others; but not so for this barrister turned prosecutor and why?

Corruption within Queensland's Joh Bjelke-Petersen government was at its height in the early 1980s. And Joh (as Premier) had developed the art of creating Generals out of postmen an age-old tactic designed to ensure ownership and control of the General.

In Spender's case, he had now proved his ability to manipulate the law and rape the public purse for personal gain. He had unwittingly set himself up with a profile that no corrupt government could possibly overlook. He was the perfect pawn . the perfect 'go to' man if a government agency needed a judge to do something underhanded or something unlawful "under the shield of law and in the name of justice".

Nolle Prosequi Silk Judicial Office

And so, prior to the end of the Russell Island conspiracy trial Spender was offered an appointment on the Bench of the newly-formed Federal Court of Australia (Queensland Division); an elevation in status that would guarantee his loyalty if ever called upon to bend the application of law.

But first, he needed to wind up the trial. So, 14 days into the jury deliberating its verdict he used the mental illness of a juror as an excuse. He immediately entered the Brisbane District Court and declared, nolle prosequi; in short, there will be no further prosecution of the accused, they are free to go. Queensland taxpayers had just been defrauded out of millions of dollars and had gained absolutely nothing justice had not been done. It was 9 March 1983.

The next immediate step was to rush him through the process of 'taking Silk'. It would be imperative that he became Queen's Counsel (QC) prior to his being appointed to the Bench.

In late 1983 Spender became Mr Jeffrey Spender QC followed quickly, on 17 May 1984, by the rank and title of The Honourable Mr Justice Jeffrey Spender. He was now a Justice of the Federal Court of Australia and ready to do the bidding of his political masters and we can forget about 'the independence of the judiciary' which is little more than a veil to hide behind; a pretence. In reality, there is no such thing.

Throughout this judge's record-breaking 26 years on the Bench he very often flagrantly displayed his corrupt nature. It was as if he was clamouring for notoriety and at the same time believing that he was immune to criminal prosecution. He once ruled that a convicted fraudster should have his passport returned to him by Federal Police and he openly boasted about it. And yet, they had already charged the offender with domestic and international fraud. But it made the front page of newspapers.

And in spite of strong allegations made, no one was ever able to link the judge to any financial agenda involving personal monetary gain for his favourable decision.

In another major civil matter Spender J ruled in favour of two government agencies just to protect government officers from civil and criminal prosecution. His judgment was a vile litany of false statements that defied the evidence in both oral and written testimonies. And in doing so, he violated the rights of 52 Australian families who were heavily involved in the development and international marketing of a mechanical carparking system. They lost millions of dollars and two of them to suicide.

The list of curious and dubious judgments went on and on to the detriment of innocent individual and corporate litigants. In time, the name, Justice Spender, would become synonymous with Judicial Corruption.

Fitzgerald Inquiry (1987-89)

During his time as a federal court judge, Spender J had allegedly committed a series of crimes under the Commonwealth Crimes Act 1914 (as amended). And yet, he was only ever charged once. I will briefly describe this matter further on.

But it is his alleged crimes before becoming a judge that caused many to be outraged; crimes so significant that they "rocked the legal profession" in Queensland. As earlier described, he had blatantly defrauded the State's public purse and yet he was rewarded for his dishonesty.

However, thanks to the Justice Tony Fitzgerald inquiry (1987-1989) into corruption within the conduct of politicians, government agencies (including State police) and certain members of the judiciary, the chances of another Jeffrey Ernest John Spender being nominated by a Queensland politician and subsequently being appointed to the federal court Bench are highly unlikely.

Section 408(C) Fraud (Queensland Criminal Code)

In truth, Jeffrey Spender (as prosecutor in the Russell Island conspiracy case) personally escaped being criminally charged under s.408(C) solely because he was allegedly dishonest and compliant.

Ironically, these are the charges his dishonesty helped him to avoid:

408(C) (1)   A person who dishonestly:

                  (b)  obtains property [includes money] from any person [includes a government body]; or

                  (d)  gains a benefit or advantage, pecuniary or otherwise, for any person [eight defence
                        counsel benefited]; or

                  (e)  causes a detriment, pecuniary or otherwise, to any person [the Queensland
                        government]; or

                  (f)   induces any person to do any act which the person [eight defence counsel]
                        is lawfully entitled to abstain from doing;

                  commits the crime of fraud.

                  Maximum penalty 5 years imprisonment.

           (2)  The offender is liable to imprisonment for 14 years if, for an offence against
                  subsection (1)
[above]:

                  (b)  the offender is an employee of the victim [Spender was employed by the State
                        government]; or

                  (d)  the property, or the yield to the offender from the dishonesty, or the detriment
                        caused,is of a value of at least $30,000 but less than $100,000.

            (2A)  The offender is liable to imprisonment for 20 years, if, for an offence against
                     subsection (1):

                    (a)  the property, or the yield to the offender from the dishonesty, or the detriment
                          caused, is of a value of at least $100,000
[Spender siphoned off in excess of two
                          million dollars ($2,000,000) for himself and eight others]; or

                    (b)  the offender carries on the business of committing the offence. [Spender repeated
                          the offence 316 times.]

A reasonably zealous, but conscientious prosecutor within the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions would be entitled to lay 2,844 charges* against Jeffrey Spender under the 1984 equivalent of s.408(C) 1(b), (d), (e) and (f); and call for a custodial sentence of 20 years under s.408(C) 2A(a) and (b).

And a less zealous prosecutor would stay with 316 charges, being the number of sitting days that Spender appeared in Court with the eight defence counsel; each sitting day representing a repeat of the dishonesty upon which the entire trial was founded.

And it is important to note that in fraud related matters the clock does not run against the Crown. Jeffrey Spender could still be charged at any time. But who would dare?

* The 2,844 charges against Spender have been calculated thus:

    (a)  He benefited himself a minimum of 316 times; one charge for each court appearance.

    (b)  He induced eight defence counsel to act unlawfully by refusing to alter the charges to False
           Pretenses
instead of Conspiracy; and effectively induced each of the eight 316 times = 2,528
           charges. Added to which is (a) above, making a total of 2,844 charges (i.e. 316 + 2,528).

Finally charged

In March 1998, Justice Spender had finally been charged. And the charges against him were under two sections of the Commonwealth Crimes Act 1914 (as amended) s.32 Judicial Corruption (12 charges) and s.43 Attempt to Pervert Justice (one charge). But in spite of a convincing 'brief of evidence' containing watertight facts, a highly nervous federal court magistrate ruled against the prosecutor's case and Spender was allowed to continue his damaging onslaught as a federal court judge for another 12 years.

Net Result: No jail time; just a prestigious 26-year-reign as a Justice of the Federal Court of Australia.

A Bitter Retirement

On his retirement from the Bench in July 2010 Justice Spender was still not at the mandatory retirement age of 70. He had pulled up stumps early because of the inevitability that he would never be appointed Chief Justice of The Federal Court of Australia. He simply carried too many scars. He had been the subject of too many serious complaints. And his earlier dishonest history had always worked against him.

He retired a bitter and broken man. But it was of his own making.