Like the rest of the legal community, I am saddened by the retirement of Chief District Court of NSW Judge Reginald Blanch AM who will be stepping-down on 7th August 2014.
Justice Blanch is respected by members of the legal profession on both sides.
He has efficiently and effectively run the Downing Centre District Court list in courtroom 3.1 for many years and lawyers are understandably apprehensive about his departure.
Some have said that no other judge can run the list as capably as Justice Blanch who has the rare ability of quickly identifying issues and consistently making accurate, sound and fair decisions.
He is often able to get through more than 50 short matters before lunch time and although some may not always agree with his decisions, it is rare to find someone who does not respect his reasoning behind them.
He has a razor sharp wit and a sense of humour that will be missed.
Having regularly appeared before Justice Blanch for more than 15 years, I have always respected the way that he just ‘gets it’ – and gets it quickly.
I have never seen him get angry despite all that has been thrown his way.
I remember running a District Court Severity Appeal before His Honour for a high-range drink driving case much earlier in my career – around the year 2000.
My client had engaged my services on the afternoon before the day of the appeal.
I had a conference with him that evening during which I was instructed that he had no prior driving convictions and that his driving record was generally good.
When I got the appeal bundle the next morning, I found that his driving history contained various entries for a range of offences including a prior mid-range drink driving (for which he was convicted and disqualified), negligent driving, driving recklessly and a large number of speeding offences including speeding by over 30kp/h.
If I recall correctly, the driving history was 10 or 11 pages long.
My client nevertheless wanted to have his conviction, disqualification and fine overturned altogether by getting what’s known as a ‘section 10’.
He was adamant that I should put him on the witness stand and confident that he could persuade His Honour to grant him a section 10 on the basis that he needed his licence for his job as a courier driver.
His Honour read through the appeal bundle and said something like ‘he’s got a terrible driving history, Mr Nedim. What are you asking for?’
I said something like ‘I would not normally make this submission given his driving history, Your Honour, but being a courier driving and the sole bread-winner for his family he has a very strong need for a licence. I’m asking Your Honour to consider exercising your discretion pursuant to a lengthy bond’.
I was basically asking His Honour to overturn the conviction, disqualification and fine altogether.
His Honour immediately said ‘this is not a section 10 case, Mr Nedim’.
His Honour was right.
As I’ve said, Justice Blanch is able to come to accurate and fair determinations very quickly. He therefore saw no benefit in my client being placed on the witness stand.
However, my client insisted on going on the stand. And why not!? He really had little to lose because he had already been given the ‘automatic’ period of disqualification and a large fine.
My client took the witness stand and did not do himself any favours.
Mr Blanch did not get angry or appear (too) frustrated.
After my further submissions, His Honour simply said again ‘this is not a section 10 case, Mr Nedim’.
Fortunately, His Honour saw fit to reduce my client’s period of disqualification and fine due to the strong need for a licence.
I know that many other judges would justifiably have become frustrated by both the ‘section 10 submission’ and the taking of evidence on the witness stand.
But Justice Blanch is not like that.
Although I wish him all the best in retirement, part of me (and I’m sure others) hopes that he gets a little bored and returns – at least as an Acting Judge.
I’m sure he’d be welcomed back with open arms.
Justice Blanch will be replaced by the Honourable Justice Derek Michael Price AM.
Justice Price became Chief Magistrate of the Local Court in 2002 and a Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW in 2006.
He was made a member of the Order of Australia in 2010.
He has overseen a wide range of changes to civil and criminal procedures over the years and is recognised for his leadership qualities, sound judgment and common sense approach to cases and the criminal justice system generally.
He has big shoes to fill.