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I'm having difficulty understanding this exchange between Robert Newlinds SC, the barrister representing the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and Dyson Heydon KC, the Commissioner of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, on 17 August 2015 (transcript, video):

THE COMMISSIONER: From whom do you get your instructions, Mr Newlinds, if you don't mind telling me that?

MR NEWLINDS: Mr Gordon.

THE COMMISSIONER: Yes, but from whom do the lay instructions come?

MR NEWLINDS: They pass through a Mr Oliver but I understand they come from the constituent entity.

THE COMMISSIONER: Where is Mr Oliver?

MR NEWLINDS: He's here somewhere.

THE COMMISSIONER: Is he in the hearing room?

MR NEWLINDS: I believe so.

THE COMMISSIONER: Yes. That seems to remove one obstacle to getting instructions.

MR NEWLINDS: No, it doesn't.

THE COMMISSIONER: You put that, of course, respectfully.

MR NEWLINDS: I do.

Is Heydon accusing Newlinds of being disrespectful?

THE COMMISSIONER: I don't quite understand that point. If, for example, Mr Oliver had just gone into hospital and was under a general anaesthetic, then of course your position would be impeccable.

MR NEWLINDS: May I explain the point?

THE COMMISSIONER: Can I just conclude by saying this: that if Mr Oliver is here, it is possible to get instructions from him. If he has difficulties in getting instructions from others, this is just a possible point of view I am putting to you, he should have come armed with them this morning to pass on to you.

MR NEWLINDS: You say that.

THE COMMISSIONER: I do say that. That is a possible view, is it not?

MR NEWLINDS: I don't accept that's a reasonable view.

I looked up the legal meaning of "instructions," which is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as:

5. In plural. Law. Information or directions regarding a case, as given by a client to a solicitor or a solicitor to a barrister. Also: authorization of a solicitor or barrister to conduct a case on a person's behalf.

However, I also don't understand the point. What is Newlinds saying?

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“You put that, of course, respectfully?”

You bet your ass Heydon is telling Newlands off. Knock down drag out fights in a courtroom are more subtle than in a barroom and the judge always wins.

First we have the trivial issue that the barrister interrupted the commissioner while he was speaking! This is extreemly disrespectful and Heydon was pointing that out by calmly but sarcastically suggesting that the interruption should have started with “With respect ..,”. The clear implication that the interruption should not have happened at all. It doesn’t matter if you disagree with what the court is saying, you don’t interrupt, you wait for your opportunity to respond. You will be given it. That’s respect.

More germanely, the barrister is in a tricky position. I don’t know what came before the video starts but it was clearly one Newlands did not expect but that Heydon thought was foreseeable. Newlands is trying to hide behind “I haven’t been instructed on that” but is having trouble because the client (or at least, the client’s representative) is in the room and can instruct him right now.

Not being prepared in court is also disrespectful. At a rough guess, just the people you see in the video are costing somebody north of $10,000 per hour. You don’t show up for the big game, tell the coach you can’t play because you forgot your boots but that it’s not your fault. Particularly when the person standing behind you is holding your boots.

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  • Yes. The judge definitely seems to want to knock this guy's head off.
    – bdb484
    Nov 22, 2021 at 20:23
  • @bdb484 nah, I don't think he wants to go all Queen of Hearts, but he seems positively ready to send someone to Sanctionland.
    – Trish
    Jun 29, 2023 at 7:22

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