Magistrate Richard Pithouse is to be investigated by the Judicial Commission of Victoria after reportedly telling a complainant in a sexual assault matter that she “put herself in that position”.
The investigation will come as a result of a referral by the state’s Attorney-General Jill Hennessy, and in the wake of an online petition which garnered thousands of supporters.
The Story So Far…
The remarks are reported to have been made during a court hearing to determine whether the complainant should receive financial aid as a victim of crime.
It is reported that Magistrate Pithouse suggested the complainant, who is legally blind, had “buyer’s remorse” after claiming to have been sexually assaulted by a man she met after a night of drinking at Melbourne’s Crown Casino in 2017. He is reported to have told the woman “you can’t profit from your own malfeasance”.
The woman claimed compensation after saying she woke up in the man’s Yarraville home with vague recollection of him sexually assaulting her as she started to pass out as a result of her level of intoxication.
She called a crisis hotline and reported the incident to police, before calling a doctor to be examined for forensic evidence.
The woman’s lawyer asserted that her client was in no position to consent to sexual relations due to her level of intoxication.
After the court attendance before Magistrate Pithouse, the woman made a formal complaint to the Judicial Commission of Victoria.
Magistrate Accused of Victim-Blaming
The comments attributed to the Magistrate sparked community outrage after being made public, with many angry about the inference that the woman had likely consented to sexual activity before regretting her actions, making a complaint and then attempting to profiteer from the incident through the victims’ compensation scheme.
Victims’ groups say that such comments make it difficult for survivors to report sexual assaults against them, fearing being disbelieved and further traumatised.
Making a Complaint About a Magistrate or Judge in NSW
Anyone can make a complaint to the Judicial Commission of NSW if they believe a state judicial officer has acted unfairly or improperly.
The Judicial Commission is an independent body which seeks to ensure the integrity and impartiality of Magistrates and Judges, and investigates complaints made against them.
To make a complaint, you will need to complete and submit the Judicial Commission complaint form.
You must include the name of the magistrate or judge in question, as well as your own details and the nature of the complaint itself.
Before submitting the complaint, you are required to sign it in the presence of a Justice of the Peace or other authorised person.
The Commissioner will then investigate the complaint; a process which may include examining court transcripts, listening to sound recordings, reviewing statements, and so on.
As a part of the process, the Commissioner will notify the judicial officer of the complaint and may request his or her version of the events.
While the Commissioner cannot directly discipline judicial officers, it can refer any finding of misconduct to the head of jurisdiction or to the Conduct Division.
The Commissioner may also recommend action – which can range from counselling right up to a parliamentary recommendation for removal.
While the process for becoming a magistrate or judge is tough, removal is extremely difficult – unless some form of very serious misconduct can be proved.
In NSW, the removal of judicial officers requires a report from the Conduct Division of the Judicial Commission, as well as the approval of the Governor on address from both houses of the NSW Parliament.