Interview: Patrick Street

There are many fantastic people out there connected with the law and all their stories are unique and interesting. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Patrick Street who, I believe, fits well into the above category. His legal career stretches over 40 years starting as a young man working as a Clerk in the Victorian Magistrates Court working, striving and finally achieving the other role on that side of the bench… Deputy Chief Magistrate.

Patrick became a Victorian Clerk of Courts in 1958. “I was in Courts throughout the Melbourne area until 1981 when I was appointed as a Magistrate.” In 1995 he was appointed a Deputy Chief Magistrate of Victoria where he remained until he retired from the bench in 1999.  “In 1999 I thought that’s 40 years in the Court’s branch, that’s enough!”

While being a ‘Clerk of Courts’ Patrick studied law part time at Melbourne University, “I wanted to get onto the bench as a Magistrate.” He graduated from Melbourne University with an LLB in 1976 and a Diploma in Criminology in 1980 and in 1976 was admitted to practise as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Unlike most of today’s law students, lawyers and even judges, Patrick’s journey was unique as he jumped straight from Clerk to Magistrate. “I didn’t particularly want to leave the job and become a solicitor or a lawyer, I wanted to get on the bench. I’ve been in the courts a lot being a clerk of courts, so it meant I was facing the lawyers and barristers, and I did the same thing when I was on the bench, I faced the lawyers. So I’ve never been in Court where I’ve faced the Magistrate. I can’t really say if I would have enjoyed being a lawyer, because I’ve never done it.”

Alas, for all those whose minds are currently whirring about the possibility of skipping the bar table and going straight to the bench, times have changed. “Clerks aren’t really eligible to be a Magistrate [nowadays]. In the mid 1980’s it changed so that you had to be appointed from either a Barrister or a Solicitor. Back in the day you had a seniority list and once you became eligible to be a Magistrate it was a matter of seniority of when you got on the bench.”

“What happened at the time I got on was that there were 4 vacancies and four Clerks of Courts including me applied for the jobs and we were then interviewed by the relevant authorities and then we were appointed to the bench. So it didn’t really involve any Law Institute or the Bar Council or anything like that.”

Since his retirement Patrick has been involved in quite a few publications, that have allowed a convergence of his passions. “I’ve been doing the monthly crossword for the Law Institute of Victoria, we call it ‘Letters of the Law’. That’s involved a lot of work producing those every month since 2000”.

Patrick was appointed President of the Australian Crossword Club in 1992 (and is still in that position) and since 2000 he has edited and published the Club’s monthly magazine Crozworld. The Club’s website is: http://www.crosswordclub.org/

“I also produced the Victorian Magistrates Court Annual Report for ten years and was the editor of the Magistrates Information Bulletin from 1995-1999 (29 issues). I was the co-author of The Health Act Victoria produced by the Law Book Co in 1983. And from a personal Magistrate’s perspective, I produced the first 12 copies of The Magistrates Journal (1983-86) when I was the Secretary of the Victorian Magistrates Association.” As you can see, Patrick is a very busy and dedicated man!
For the last 12 years Patrick has also been producing the bi-monthly newsletter of the Silver Society of Australia. “So I’ve been interested in collecting sterling silver tableware. So that’s 3 publications. But the time I have spent on the Magistrates Cases that has taken an enormous amount of work.”

Magistrates Cases

For those who have not heard of Magistrates Cases, it is a wonderful website and resource for (particularly Victorian) practitioners, law students and yes, as the name suggests, Magistrates. In essence, the website has access to over 2500 specialised case reports, in electronic format, mainly from the Supreme Court of Victoria in relation to the Magistrates’ Court’s jurisdiction in Victoria. Now THAT is a handy website!

“The Supreme Court of Victoria used to send its judgements down to Magstrates if they thought that the judgement might be relevant. I started doing them in 1983, I’d been on the bench for 2 years and the Chief Magistrate at the time said ‘I want you to start doing that‘. I got these cases and would go through them and ended up putting them in the publications.”

“There’s usually about 4-5 cases that go out in each one of these parts. I still do about 10-12 of these parts every year.  It’s definitely not a summary. I include the whole case and catchwords to give you a bit of an idea of what the case is about. I usually do a few sentences to background the case and then I put my neck on the block and say “this is what the Judge held”. That’s the hard bit, what is this case all about and what did the Judge mean?” Patrick laughs that he’s “only” done it more than 2500 times now. “it must be a world record!”

“About 10 years ago or so, I started my Magistrates Cases website where I’ve uploaded every relevant case to Magistrates Cases (http://www.magistratescases.com.au/) from 1969. Every case that has been published as a Magistrates Cases has been uploaded, there are more than 2500. Even cases before I started doing it.  The ones that were edited by other Magistrates didn’t have the detail I’ve always done and quite often didn’t say what the case stood for, I would fix it and upload it.”

So why did Patrick take over the role and importantly, allow online access? “I want Magistrates to be totally informed and kept up to date with the latest cases from the Supreme Court because if a case in the Magistrates Court is similar to one in the Supreme Court then the Magistrates are bound to follow what the Supreme Court has decided.”

“All Magistrates have access to the cases and I send spare copies of the printed version to the Magistrates Court in the City and the Broadmeadows Court. When I was on the Bench this didn’t happen and I must say, it’s handy that any magistrate or barrister can access the case in court!”

Patrick has also written a large number of articles not only about historical matters of the Court but also for the assistance of the magistrates which can be accessed through the Legal History section of the website. “The article on drink/driving goes more than 300 pages and probably is the most detailed article of decided cases in relation to that topic. The Magistrates Cases covers virtually all cases on drink/driving in Victoria since 1969.”

 

A few Questions for Patrick Street

Do you have any single moment, case or event that has defined your legal career?

“A decision I made in 1994, the Defence Counsel thought I had acted in an improper manner. That case went before one of the Supreme Court judges who completely went along with my decision. So I was very happy with that. It gives you a bit more confidence when you have a Supreme Court judge upholding your decision. So I enjoyed that.”

If you could give one piece of advice to new people in the legal profession, what would it be?

“Well in my opinion a lawyer is the most important person in Court. I loved to have a lawyer appearing for a defendant than a defendant appearing on their own. I’ve always been very impressed with the quality of the submissions that have been made to me over the years. Lawyers are the most important part of the Magistrates Court.”

What makes a good lawyer?

“I always liked the lawyer if they were making relevant and helpful submissions, but if the lawyer got offside with the magistrate or said things that were a bit insulting or unhelpful, to me that never did any good for the decision that was finally made. So for me, if the lawyer can be courteous at all times but be extensive with their knowledge of the law and the case involved, to me that’s the best, the lawyer who was doing the right thing.”

Is the reality of being a judge anything like people imagine it?

“I’m afraid not, it’s hard work! The trouble with the Magistrates Court is that there is so much work there every day and what it means is that you are in a position where you must complete the work that’s been listed today, because it can’t be put on tomorrow, because there’s a heap of cases tomorrow, and in fact there’s a heap of cases every day for the next three months! So if you can’t finish the hearing today, then that’s going to cause a real problem.”

“I felt that I had to make decisions properly and as efficiently as I could to make sure that people weren’t going to be put off for 3 or 6 months. To make sure I finished the particular case on a particular day, it was very difficult to make sure that happened.”

 

At just over 74 years of age, Patrick is still editing Magistrates Cases as well as his many other publications. For access to Magistrates Case, follow this link: http://www.magistratescases.com.au/