JUDGE Brian Harrison spared time between trials in the Mount Isa District Court last week to answer questions by legal studies students.
One of the first questions asked by the Year 10 Good Shepherd Catholic College students was whether there was enough Aboriginal people appointed to jury duty.
The Cairns based judge said he hoped to see more Aboriginal people represented on the jury of peers, but that there were some difficulties to overcome.
In a case heard that day in which a Boulia man was attacked in his own bed there was an Aboriginal woman initially appointed to be in the jury.
However, she acknowledged she knew half the witnesses and therefore could not be on the panel, Judge Harrison said.
Another of the 11 students on excursion told the judge there was an inconsistency of sentences among more serious crimes as judged from high profile cases she had seen on the news, and asked why this was the case.
Judge Harrison noted the example she provided was in the American court system and said he liked to think the Commonwealth judicial system was more consistent.
But the court did look at the history of a defendant proven guilty in the court of law. The defendant was more likely to receive a more severe penalty if shown to have more opportunities than a person who has grown up in more difficult circumstances, he said.
“Do you always agree with the decision of the jury?” another student asked Judge Harrison. The short answer was no.
There were many case files in his study that had some dents in them, he said. However, he saw the occasional frustration in judicial decision making as proof of his passion.
Judge Harrison asked the first question of the session, which was whether any of the students were considering a career in law. There wasn’t a “yes” among the group who eventually asked more about his own life.
He had been a judge for seven years but had also been a barrister and solicitor. His experience in the judicial system spanned about 40 years. The longest trial he had judged was three weeks, and that happened this year.
“I’ve been lucky. Some of my colleagues have been in a trial for several months,” Judge Harrison said.
Students asked if it was tough to cope hearing the details of crimes and whether it took a toll.
The judge did not seem to hear the next question which was if he had ever stepped down from a trial to protect himself emotionally.
He did say there were many tough cases in his circuit.
But the judge said he did not know many who had been impacted enough by crimes to affect their career in the judicial system.