“Wrongheaded narcissists and zealots” threaten rule of law – Sofronoff

Andrew L. Urban.

The risks to the rule of law in Australia are subtle and internal and “I do not believe that there are any risks to our way of life in terms of the rule of law from the inclusion of immigrants,” said Walter Sofronoff KC in his Robin Speed Memorial address to the Rule of Law Education Centre (June 13, 2024). “It will come from wrongheaded narcissists and zealots…” 

Speaking in front of over 120 guests at the memorial dinner in Sydney’s CBD, Sofronoff expanded on these remarks at the conclusion of his speech.

“We are all the same where it matters. The respect in which we are all the same, despite cultural differences, means that any threat to the rule of law will not come from interaction between groups and offensive attacks upon our, our system of governance by some group or some outsiders coming.

“It will come from wrongheaded narcissists and zealots here who have ideas about what ought to happen, that they don’t appreciate conflicts with these essential principles that ought to be eternal.

“My view is that our institutions, because they actually consist, they have a name, there might be a building, there’s a statutory structure to them, and to a degree, a physical structure, but they’re constituted by people.

“And those institutions, I would put this forward without much risk of being proved wrong almost all unanimously consist of people who hold the same assumptions as we do. To the extent that they do not, they are strong enough to withstand the assaults that are occasioned by them.

“The thing to watch are the incremental intrusions into those courts, the court practices that reflect our beliefs, not some, fear of, a large gross assault by a lot of people or by some outsiders.”

Sofronoff & Margaret Cunneen SC

Sofronoff was introduced by Margaret Cunneen SC, the president of the Rule of Law Education Centre. She told the guests how Sofronoff “flies Tiger moths. He writes film scripts, plays guitar and drums, as well as the Rolling Stones, and he drives Ferraris. He’s a member of the panel of the International Court of Appeal of the Federation International Intermobile, which hears appeals from International Motor Sports participants. Before he was a judge, Mr. Sofronoff was a barrister for almost 40 years, 30 as silk as Queens Council, which included 10 years in the position of Queensland Solicitor General. He served as the president of the Queensland Bar Association, which is a testament to the respect in which he is held by the Bar. And to his leadership ability, he practiced in all areas of the law, including of particular interest to me, in crime.”

Cunneen went on: “His advice to defense barristers includes the elegant and efficient exhortation “Just contest your point. There’s  just one thing. Many points don’t really matter. Illuminate that one point then it is for the Crown to prove everything.  As a defence counsel, one has only one point.”  In a 2015 address to the Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory, he said, “we speak of the barrister’s duty to the court. However, I think we really mean the barrister’s duty to the rule of law. This can be seen from the occasions when it will be the barrister’s duty to challenge the court itself.

“And last year, as we probably all know, Mr. Sofronoff was handed what might be seen as something of a poison chalice. The Board of Inquiry into the Criminal Justice System of the ACT. But as he might say himself, drawing from his late father’s wisdom, good luck, bad luck, too early to tell.”

Walter Sofronoff KC delivering the 2024 Robin Speed Memorial Lecture

Could Sofronoff had been thinking of the kerfuffle about his report being provided under embargo to a couple of journalists before its official release when he said: “You need political discussion. And political discussion is often harmful to reputations and hurtful. But you need that because that is essential. One of the things that you need to know about as a citizen is what the government is doing. And one of the things that most governments would rather you not know is what the government is doing.  So they have laws correctly to ensure the public servants and other agents of government ought not to speak about government affairs…

“There are many things that ought to be kept confidential in government work, but some things ought not.  And they are often things that the government would wish to ensure are never known, although they ought to be.

“So here’s the thing. The continued existence of our constitutional democracy depends upon citizens being promptly and accurately informed about the doings of government. Much of that information, perhaps in many cases, all of that information, is information that’s obtained by journalists and communicated by journalists.  Much of the work of government is confidential, as I’ve said, and even some of that is information that is obtained and communicated by journalists.

“There ought to be restrictions upon the ability of journalists to get some information, but in other cases, there ought not be.  And so, a government that seeks to restrain journalists’ access to information wrongly, is by that means encroaching upon constitutional democracy, the operation of the rule of law, because it precludes knowledge that would guide voters in the decisions that they’re going to make about the future.”

Those views seem to fit like a  jigsaw with another point he made: “A judge has no right to conduct a trial according to his or her own special ideas of what a fair trial to look like in order to achieve some idiosyncratic personal aim. A judge who seeks to conduct a trial that way is incrementally damaging the rule of law. Moreover, a judge who enters the political arena to advocate policy about how trial should be conducted generally, or in specific circumstances, is also in engaging in activity that is unbecoming a judge, because a judge must remain impartial and independent.  And as soon as you wed yourself publicly to a policy that you advocate, you become a politician. So that’s the kind of danger you have.

“We have to be able to, in our democracy, vote for the people that we want to vote for. That means that we have to have the information that we need in order to make a proper judgment about who we should vote for. That is called free speech.”

In 2022, he presided over the Inquiry into forensic DNA testing in Queensland and uncovered numerous irregular practices, which had impeded the course of justice in criminal cases in particular over many years. It led him into the science of DNA “and I have to tell people about it now as I feel an urge to unburden myself of the knowledge,” he said by way of introducing a lengthy history of DNA and altruism as a way to explain why the rule of law has arisen in human nature. A lesson he found in sociobiology says that selfishness beats altruism within single groups … but altruistic groups beat selfish groups.

Illustrated by slides of DNA, chimpanzees and lions, his speech tuned into a sociobiology lecture worthy of a university course – although not one that anyone in the room  expected.

FOOTNOTE: The function was held at the Beta Luxury Event Space in Castlereagh St, Sydney. I was seated next to a lawyer who suffered a few minor coughs and sniffles and was impressed when a waiter turned up – on his own initiative – with some tissues, and a soothing cup tea. The space features unrendered brick walls with elements of unfinished construction work, as a deliberate design highlight. It is faintly reminiscent of Budapest’s famous and popular ‘ruin pubs’, where the absence of renovation is turned into an ever surprising design feature.


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12 Responses to “Wrongheaded narcissists and zealots” threaten rule of law – Sofronoff

  1. Heinrich says:

    Telefonnoe Pravo as practiced in the
    dear old Soviets- but not in Australia !
    Don’t bloody bet on it ! What other
    explanation is there for some of the
    ludicrous verdicts we are burdened with?
    eg. We must not admit – must cover up- that seemingly protected yacht thieves are prowling the Hobart waterfront . Not a good look ! Politically – we must not admit- we employed known fraudulent flexible forensics for many years . Derrick Bromley is possibly more of a political embarrassment- than a justice embarrassment. After all – appeals court judges are well proven (and irremovable) persons of doubtful intelligence. Whereas politically elected Attorney Generals sure can be dumped ! The problem is – politicians have an absolutely amazing thick skin- coupled with an inherent ability to lie their effing guts out ! SO – what is the answer ? A very strong and independent CCRC. Must not be afraid of occasionally causing the release of the guilty – the well known tenet – 10 guilty go free – not one Sue Neill-Fraser as a political prisoner of the gutless ! Justice is too important (sacred) to be left to judges.
    (or politicians).

    • owen allen says:

      CCRC, Heinrich. What a great idea. It is on the boil, simmering. In the meantime Heinrich, whilst we wait for an announcement of the establishment of a CCRC in Australia; lagging behind UK, Canada and God Forbid even the Kiwis, the South Sea Poms have a CCRC, so I am led to believe, I read it in the media. Heinrich, I have a plan for a CCRC and it is stage one; I challenge you to set up a CCRC before me, and or anybody else. Competition is the driving force, so they so; in the market place anyway.
      Now we are known as the Human Race, and I tell you why. Presently in Australia an Island in the South West Pacific Ocean;( island, why did I mention island. ISLAND SYNDROME.) the Human Race is on for JUSTICE.
      Good luck Heinrich, if you accept this mission. Owen.

  2. Heinrich says:

    SO! Now we know ! Who it was- flew a PA 25 under the Tasman Bridge at 2am? There IS a TV drama script in the works. A tale of Southern Ocean degradation ! Set in a menacingly gloomy old convict settlement-with a long history of justice skulduggery – floggings of the already dying . Liberties taken for dramatic effect-as in all good New Holland tales – The knight rides in on a Harley ,wearing platform shoes ( a short arse actor with ducks disease), rescues the lovely lady in distress ! (Meryl Streep) Trapped up in a web of judicial hanky
    panky, and evidence concealment. The riveting courtroom scenes as the prosecution team ( judge and dpp) collapses – our intrepid self taught (no law degree) but handsomely craggy one, flourishes the vital blue cloth to the cheering jury ! Our defender (not a KC) last seen in a smoking climb north in his L39 Arrivederci Seagull – escaping the fermented apple Island. OMG. Young blonde Sheila in the dickie seat ? Fist shaking Taspol on the apron . Next stop ADL – the Derrick Bromley fiasco . PS. The retrieval of the blue cloth from the Taspol HQ evidence safe is a tale worthy of Wallace and Gromit.

  3. owen allen says:

    The Consequences or Ramifications of the Abuse of or Neglect of Applying the Rule of Law may have far reaching health effects both physical and mental due to stress and trauma, which results in anxiety, depression, mental illness and physical breakdown such as obesity and type one diabetes due to excessive cortisol in the system and insulin resistance. Owen.
    PS, note the time of writing (3:03AM), it even affects our sleep.

  4. Heinrich says:

    Designing Jane Russell’s bra was a great engineering achievement from Howard Hughes – then another great design was that equally gigantic spruce goose ! However – It would seem far more difficult to deliver plain ,simple, and even obvious justice . Only one conclusion- get judges to hell out of the appeals system for a start ! Only a moronic lunatic would refuse that chance – a decent and just verdict for most of the poor souls we followers of Andrews WCR are aware of . eg. Please explain just how these judge idiots types can justify 40 years imprisonment – for a citizen convicted using smart arse fraud ! The court sanctioned flexible forensics and then a total lack of ability to ever, ever apologise. Pompous stinking GITS !
    (with law degrees)

  5. Heinrich says:

    Hard to beat Hungarian goulash in a Budapest ‘Ruin Pub ‘. Or Stroganoff with Sofronoff in the Szimpla Kert ? Too many pints of Dreher Bak – then we’ll loudly debate Gyorgy Lukacs –

  6. Rob Porter says:

    It’s such a great pity Justice Michael Lee didn’t have the benefit of Mr Sofonoff’s speech before he went off and invented his biased view/judgment of the Higgins Lehrmann controversy. Accordingly, amusing that he may be, justice Lee is a serious threat to our democracy.

    • owen allen says:

      “They” are all a threat to our Democracy and Law and Order; this is why the situation has to be taken seriously. To not object to the Tripe of Injustice, is to roll over and die. The Diggers from the Trenches will be clawing in their coffins to get out and charge over the top with fixed bayonets to get at the Traitors undermining Australian Law and Common Values by a Perverse Few in the Justice System, which includes Police.

  7. owen allen says:

    Wow, great work by Andrew and Walter Sofronoff. I have never heard of the Rule of Law Education Centre, and how many of the population have. I am relieved such a place exists, and there are people concerned about the Rule of Law, other than the few I know of from recent events pertaining to Wrongful Convictions, starting with Sue Niell-Fraser. Which is a Tasmanian problem, and there is No Rule of Law in Tasmania. I can prove it, documented from Local Council to Premiers Office, Corruption Reigns Supreme in Tasmania, not The Rule of Law. Owen. I guess I betterbpack my Harley Davidson and ride down to the Rule of Law Education Centre. Thanks.

  8. Joshie says:

    Film scripts? Interesting. I wonder if that is actually true, or if yes, is there a finished draft in existence. I’d love to read that script more than ever now. I’m sure it would be titled ‘Walter’. And every slug line would include the name ‘Walter’.

    • owen allen says:

      Are you a Hollywood scout Joshie? As soon as you mentioned film scripts I think of Hollywood and had to research slug line.
      I have thought of making a movie, I have quite a few Harley Davidsons, enough to make a movie, I have mental illness from stress and trauma.
      Obsessive compulsive disorder; I bought Harley Davidsons, so what do I do with them, make a movie. If you want to make a bike movie you need bikes right. I need a script writer Joshie, and I don’t fear OCD, Howard Hughes suffered from it and he was a good man. Owen.

    • owen allen says:

      Furthermore Joshie, I need a prop for the movie. An Aerovodochody L39 Albatross Militiary Jet Trainer. I will fly it myself, I am an ex Agricultural Pilot,(ctopduster) and also Aerobatic, trained by Royal Australian Air Force Wing Commander at Schofields Aero Club in my early stages of flight training, and I joined the NSW Chapter of the Australian Aerobatic Club and participated in Aerobatic Competition several times before we left the area pursueing a career in agricultural aviation, until eventually Tasmania
      nepotism, cronyism and corruption ruined my flying career.
      If you can get a word to any of Hollywoods pilots, such as John Trevolta or Tom Cruise or any others, I think Harrison Ford flies, I am sure they will all be interested in my short flying career in Australia, and what followed,

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