13 November 2023

Brian Martin reappointed to Tasmania's Supreme Court after judge asked to leave over 'significant matter'

| James Day
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“The Government continues to work closely with the court to ensure it can manage the work of the court, and the reappointment of Acting Justice Martin is the latest in a number of steps we have taken to support the court in managing their caseload,” said Tasmania’s Attorney-General. Photo: Government House Tasmania.

One of Tasmania’s Supreme Court judges has been asked by the state’s Chief Justice Alan Blow to go on leave indefinitely, reappointing Hon Brian Martin AO KC as an Acting Justice to help with the ongoing backlog of cases.

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Guy Barnett made the announcement on 3 November, which didn’t identify the judge at the time but is now understood to be Gregory Geason.

“I take this matter very seriously and will consider any further action as appropriate,” said Attorney-General Barnett. In the statement, it was mentioned that the Attorney-General discovered the “significant matter” in a meeting with the Chief Justice earlier that day.

Acting Justice Martin has been reappointed until 30 June, 2024, in response to a request from the Chief Justice for a short-term appointment, but the former Supreme Court judge asked to go on leave may be asked to work on reserved judgments so there are fewer delays. Last year, the Hobart Mercury captured a photo of Gregory Geason kissing a former Supreme Court associate following a Law Society of Tasmania event at the Grand Poobah nightclub.

Following the scandal that saw the associate lose her job, her lawyer Josh Bornstein lodged a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission under the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act. The Maurice Blackburn principal said the state act protected employees from discrimination on the basis of lawful sexual activity.

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Now the Supreme Court has two acting and seven incumbent judges to deal with the backlog, which as of 30 June and excluding appeals had 717 criminal and 876 civil matters yet to be resolved. The record before this year was in 2021, which due to COVID-19 stood at 692 cases.

“Acting Justice Martin has had a long and esteemed career in the legal profession and previously served as an Acting Judge of the Supreme Court of Tasmania from 2017 until 30 June this year,” said the Attorney-General.

“This appointment alleviates pressure on the court due to periods of leave of substantive judges and the retirement of Associate Justice Stephen Holt earlier this year.

“The recruitment process to replace Associate Justice Holt is well progressed, and the appointment of Acting Justice Martin – along with the recent passage of the Criminal Code Amendment (Criminal Jurisdiction of the Associate Judge) Bill 2023 – will increase the time available to the other judges to hear criminal trials.”

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Following the news of Justice Geason taking leave, Bob Brown called on Premier Jeremy Rockliff to remove Attorney-General Guy Barnett from office.

“It is improper that Attorney-General Barnett unnecessarily intervened to effect and announce the taking of leave of Justice Geason at the very time Justice Geason was working on a judgment involving allegations levelled at Barnett himself,” Mr Brown said.

“He should have stayed right out of this process. Barnett has appeared to have eagerly intervened to his own advantage so that the foundation’s case against him is suddenly up in the air. Barnett should be sacked.”

In a statement released by the Bob Brown Foundation, the former Greens senator said the foundation’s case against the Attorney-General was still awaiting judgment from the Supreme Court’s full bench.

Justice Geason was due to preside over the matter, which sought damages for the licence he issued to China-based mining company MMG for control of lands in the Tarkine rainforest where environmental protests were taking place.

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