So, it looks like the Sunday Herald Sun is doubling-down on its much-condemned and stunningly illogical smear (even Andrew Bolt called it a smear) against Greens candidate Brian Walters last week.

Yes, they’ve declared war on the long-standing cab rank principle (now that it’s inconvenient to a last-minute misleading line they want to use to damage a Greens candidate; funnily enough, they don’t appear to have had a problem with it until now), and to that end they’ve managed to persuade Peter Faris QC to have a go at both his ideological enemies and the professional organisation with which he had such a vigorous dispute that he ended up quitting it! (I gather they didn’t have to appeal to the cab rank principle to secure his assistance.)

Top QC lashes Green lawyer and Melbourne candidate Brian Walters - Peter Faris, QC
I’m going to assume that wasn’t Peter Faris’ own heading for his piece. I really hope I’m right to do so.

An interesting title, “Top”. I know that “Queen’s Counsel” was an honorary given by the Supreme Court in an opaque process to certain practitioners, but I must admit to having some curiosity about what makes one a “Top” QC in the eyes of the Sunday Herald-Sun. Perhaps it’s “being the only barrister we could find to defend our outrageous, misleading and fundamentally nonsensical smear of last week”.

It’s a pity that the Sunday Herald Sundoesn’t come with a built-in Google search function, either, so that readers could discover for themselves who this Top Peter Faris Top QC is, with what side of politics he’s been enthusiastically engaged for some time (hint: it’s not one that you would ever imagine being sympathetic to the Greens) and what his relationship is like with the Victorian Bar whose rules he’s condemning in this article (hint: it wasn’t all that good before he left it). Naturally, the Sunday Herald Sun doesn’t share that information.

Not that pointing out the background of the person making an argument is a particularly strong method of contradicting it. We shouldn’t dismiss Faris’ argument by reference to his personal feelings about the Greens and the Bar – that would be as silly as blandly dismissing the arguments made by the many, many legal professionals from all sides of politics who have come out this week to explain and defend the cab rank principle on the basis that, you know, that’s just what you’d expect them to say. Those barristers are conflicted and self-interested. The one who agrees with us is completely objective.

How absurd a position that would be!

Still, Faris does insert himself into his argument as an example, and it’s actually somewhat interesting to compare his stated personal approach to the cab rank rule that doesn’t apply to him anyway because he’s not a member of the Bar, with the brief moment in last week’s Sunday Herald Sun editorial in which they hint that they do have a glimmer of understanding as to why the rule exists.

The Sunday Herald Sun, last week:

Mr Walters is right that everyone deserves a legal defence and the right to a fair trial. After all, barristers can represent murderers and rapists without condoning the crimes.

Peter Faris, today:

For personal and political reasons, I do not accept rape cases nor will I act for a Nazi (as Walters has done) or a terrorist.

Mr Faris doesn’t explain how acting for an accused rapist/Nazi/terrorist conflicts with his “personal” and “political” beliefs. Does he not think people accused of serious crimes “deserve a legal defence and the right to a fair trial”?

Faris could not have given a better example of why the “cab rank principle” is so important. Imagine a world of barristers like Peter Faris, refusing briefs because they were politically unpalatable. Imagine the consequences – innocent people convicted because their guilt was assumed before trial; only the rich and powerful being able to get assistance. All I can say is, let’s be thankful the members of the Victorian Bar have a different, more robust ethical approach.

I suppose Mr Faris thinks it would be legitimate for the Herald Sun to attack me, if I were to ever run for parliament, on the grounds of the people I’ve defended who’ve been charged with criminal offences. If I’m representing them, on his logic, obviously I must be endorsing their other activities! So, by extension, anyone who’s ever defended criminals should be prevented from running from parliament. And, consequently, any barrister who might seek public office later in life must make sure they only act in cases for “good” clients.

Yes, that’ll really serve the cause of justice – the principle of all people being equal before the law.

Faris’ suggestion that a barrister should pick and choose which clients are deserving or not based on their personal political beliefs is frankly exactly the problemmatic and dangerous attitude the cab rank principle is supposed to counter.

There is, of course, still no effort being made by either the Sunday Herald Sun or Faris to explain precisely where Walters’ alleged “hypocrisy” is supposed to be. This is the strongest case the “Top QC” can put against his former colleague:

Like all Greens, he is passionate about climate change and strongly condemns the use of brown coal. The Greens view brown coal as the most polluting fuel that we use.

This is particularly significant in Victoria, which has large brown coal deposits used to produce nearly all of our electricity. Walters would shut this down.

Yet Walters is currently acting as the lawyer for a company which is Victoria’s largest brown coal producer – a company which the Greens’ policies would put out of business.

He is thus being paid a lot of money derived from brown coal.

Yup, it’s that flimsy. He might as well attack Walters for using electricity DERIVED FROM BROWN COAL! Or flying on an aircraft when he goes overseas instead of swimming, this being assumed to be the Greens’ policy when their opponents are making up stupid strawmen with which to malign them.

As it happens, and because he can’t, Faris is not alleging that Walters has put an argument inconsistent with anything he’s ever actually said – you know, actual hypocrisy. He’s sort of implying that Walters has at some point said bad things about coal companies (rather than criticising government’s reliance on them) – or, you know, joined a political party where someone else might have said some bad things about coal companies – and then, completely consistently with his belief that everyone has the right to be represented before the courts, has acted for a company with whose other activities he does not agree!

Wait, that attack makes no sense at all.

Okay, let’s just put it in the terms the Sunday Herald Sun (and the Greens’ various detractors) are hoping their readers will take it:
1. Greens say coal is bad.
2. Green works with coal-related company in a separate matter.

…4. Profit. (Sorry.)

And if we do it noisily enough, they might not notice that 1 and 2 aren’t actually contradictory!

Meanwhile, it’s all about the “scrutiny”:

IF THE Greens want to be serious political players then the party and its candidates must learn to live with serious scrutiny.

I do not think that word means what they think it means. Informing readers of Greens’ actual policies and arguments – and the arguments against them – would be scrutiny. Exposing instances where Greens candidates actually do something wrong would be scrutiny. Running a misleading smear that relies on readers’ ignorance to damage a party you happen to dislike – that’s cynical propaganda.

Not that you promised us anything different, of course.

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