A Northern Territory judge who was found to have brought the judiciary into disrepute and engaged in “unacceptable” inappropriate judicial conduct will not be assigned duties in the Alice Springs Youth Justice Court but will continue to sit on youth courts elsewhere.
Multiple complaints were made about Judge Greg Borchers this year, including the allegation that he had accused a 13-year-old boy of taking advantage of his mother’s death in order to commit property crimes in Tennant Creek.
Chief Judge of the Darwin Local Court, Dr John Lowndes, conducted an investigation over recent months and on Friday handed down his findings.
“I have formed the view that in a number of matters the judge has not demonstrated the courtesy, tolerance, patience and sensitivity which … should necessarily characterise the discharge of the judicial function,” Dr Lowndes said in a written statement.
He said Judge Borchers had made “gratuitous and unnecessary” comments and remarks, which Dr Lowndes found displayed a lack of judicial temperament.
“The judge has been found to have engaged in inappropriate judicial conduct, which is unacceptable,” he said.
“It detracts from the proper performance in the matter at hand, specifically, and it reflects poorly on the courts generally and brings the judiciary into disrepute.”
‘The community can’t afford you’
In June, the ABC reported a 13-year-old boy, whose mother was allegedly murdered by his father in January, pleaded guilty to property damage in Tennant Creek, and according to the court transcript, Judge Borchers told him that although he accepted there had been a “significant breakdown” in the family, “you’ve duchessed it, that means that you’ve taken advantage of it”.
Following his mother’s death, the boy’s school attendance dropped, he abused alcohol, sniffed petrol, and suffered social anxiety, the court heard, and one night in May, the boy broke into a hotel, damaged a bank, a car and a restaurant. He had also previously been arrested for other property crimes.
“You’re rampaging around the streets at night and no-one cares … you’ve got no-one looking after you,” Judge Borchers told him in sentencing.
“You don’t know what a first-world economy is. You don’t know where money comes from, other than the Government gives it out.”
He also told the boy: “You’re not going back into the community, the community can’t afford you.”
The Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) had pushed for Judge Borchers’ removal, calling his comments “grossly insensitive”.
Dr Lowndes said Judge Borchers had said the boy was taking advantage of a lack of parental control, not of his mother’s death.
“The judge said no such thing,” he said.
Judge ‘displayed a lack of judicial temperament’
He also investigated allegations that Judge Borchers “had been denunciatory and humiliating” towards the boy.
Dr Lowndes rejected this, but said some of Judge Borchers’ remarks “appeared harsh and were misguided”, and said they fell well short of judicial misconduct, “although they did amount to inappropriate judicial conduct”.
Dr Lowndes also rejected claims Judge Borchers shamed the boy, or that an exchange between the judge and defence counsel was mocking of the youth or his family.
Several other complaints were also dismissed, including that Judge Borchers inappropriately interrogated the grandmother of the young person; ignored helpful information from the defence counsel; pre-emptively snapped any possible connection between the death of the young person’s mother and the offending, and was dismissive of the submissions of defence counsel.
“Although another judge may have handled the young person’s matter differently, the approach taken by Judge Borchers was within the admittedly broad range of what might be considered legitimate in the discharge of the judicial function generally, and in the youth justice context specifically,” Dr Lowndes said.
However, in looking at five other incidents — in the Youth Justice Court and the Local Court — he found Judge Borchers made “gratuitous and unnecessary” comments, and remarks that “displayed a lack of judicial temperament”.
Dr Lowndes determined that he would not assign Judge Borchers to the Alice Springs Youth Justice Court “until it is deemed appropriate”, but he would still sit on other youth courts, including in Tennant Creek, the origin of the principal complaint against him.
“Ideally, Judge Borchers should not sit in the Youth Justice Courts elsewhere, including Tennant Creek, but that would not be practical as to do so would mean that the judge would be assigned no circuit work, putting an insuperable burden on the other Alice Springs judges,” Dr Lowndes said.
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