Lexcursions – Salvos debate

1 February 2014 | Published in Archive of Everything, Blog, Featured, Law Society Journal, News, Writing | Comment


Late last year, Salvos Legal held its annual fundraiser: a lecture series with the headline event being a “Judges’ showdown”. It was a debate between judges and barristers on the topic: “That crime pays”. I took a pew (literally a pew) at the back of the Salvos hall to watch.

Luke Geary, the managing partner of Salvos Legal, took to the stage to introduce the debate. He set the scene and explained there would be two speakers from each side.

“In our entry poll,” said Geary, “56 per cent of you said that crime does not pay. But to convince you otherwise, please welcome the first speaker for the affirmative: Judge Helen Syme”.

“Crime pays”, said Judge Syme, “for the lawyers who work in crime. They well enjoy the gratitude of an innocent client … and the gratitude of a not-so-innocent client”.

Crime pays, she told us, for lawyers, but also for novelists, the entertainment industry and lovers of crime fiction everywhere – everyone, it seems, has a stake in crime.

In drawing attention to all the positive externalities associated with crime – and in particular the industries that rely on it – the Judge artfully sidestepped the issue of whether or not crime pays for the criminal.

Appearing for the negative, barrister Grant Brady challenged this approach.

“As a criminal barrister,” he said. “I have the best job in the world, because I am the most important person at a dinner party. When I tell people I am a criminal barrister, I am – quite properly – the centre of attention. That means, for me, crime pays.”

“But for the criminal, crime does not pay. Why?” he asked rhetorically. “Because of the icy fingers of guilt and remorse.”

He told us that Ronnie Briggs, Christopher Skase – and even both Judas and Brutus – each of them felt “the icy fingers of guilt and remorse” after committing their crimes.

He used the phrase “icy fingers of guilt and remorse” with such repetitive effect that I felt the debate was beginning to swing to the negative. That is, until Justice Ian Harrison rose to continue the case for the affirmative.

“For our honeymoon”, said Justice Harrison, “we made the mistake of going skiing in the Swiss Alps … And I well remember the icy fingers of guilt and remorse”.

He brought the house down, and went on …

“I don’t want to be accused of playing the man instead of the ball,” he said. “But just take a look at our opponents … Look how rich they look.”

And then he made the best substantive point of the day: proceeds of crime legislation.

“Parliament has worked out that crime pays, so they’ve enacted a law to get a piece of the action.”

The Hon Greg James QC then spoke to conclude the case for the negative.

“How can it be said that crime pays when one considers what a pittance judges are paid? I know from personal experience when I was a Justice of the Supreme Court. In the District Court, where they do even more crime, the situation is even worse.”

But he wasn’t finished.

“And for Magistrates whose lot is 98 per cent crime, the situation is even worse still. Crime does not pay, and that’s why I’ve gone back to the bar!”

He sat down.

Geary gifted goats to the needy, in the name of each of the speakers. “In years gone by”, he explained, “we’ve given pigs, which caused offence, and chickens, which caused bravado. We’re hoping that goats will send the right message”.

The outcome was determined by an audience vote who now voted 78 per cent in favour of the proposition “That crime pays”. It was a clear victory for the affirmative. I put the result down to Ian Harrison, his honeymoon, and the icy fingers of guilt and remorse.


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