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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Melbourne aged care resident spared jail for Norfolk contempt

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The rarely convened Norfolk Island Supreme Court won’t order the jailing of an 82-year-old aged care resident this week after he apologised for claiming judges were conspiring against him and promised to start paying a $144,000 bill.

Former island identity Dr John Walsh of Brannagh – who also claims to be “Duke de Ronceray” and that his use of the title “Sir” doesn’t imply he’s been knighted – was found in contempt of court this year.

He had refused for more than three years to abide by court orders to refund a former colleague $200.

The orders also required payment of $144,000 in legal costs incurred during professional misconduct proceedings, in which the court found he falsely claimed a lunch and drinks club – dubbed “Norfolk Island Bar Association” – was an actual professional body of barristers.

After the court froze his assets in June, Walsh attended court virtually and aired unfounded allegations against three judges including a claim the chief justice “created” the misconduct charges to “basically to keep me quiet”.

That caused Justice Steven Rares to impose a six-month jail term, delayed until December 17 to allow Walsh to expunge his contempt.

The pensioner’s conditional apology in November that suggested he was misinterpreted didn’t cut it.

But, upon hearing a further “unreserved” apology and an undertaking that Walsh would make regular contributions to the outstanding bill, Justice Rares on Wednesday stayed the jail term until further notice.

“I don’t think he’s completely purged his contempt but he’s made a genuine attempt,” the judge said.

Walsh, who testified to living in a Melbourne aged care facility, said last week he had “great respect for the court system”, asked for forgiveness and said his non-payment was due him being virtually penniless.

“There’s no hidden money,” he said.

On Wednesday, he agreed to forfeit what money he had remaining on Norfolk Island – up to $18,000 – and to contribute $100 of his fortnightly aged pension to the bill.

While the court would order the payments continue until the $144,000 was paid, “that probably won’t happen in his lifetime,” Justice Rares noted.

The payment orders are expected to be made next week.

Alan Hands, who began representing Walsh in December, said his former Victorian Bar colleague “had a sharp mind for many years” but was now an older, infirm gentleman with a misconceived sense of grievance.

Walsh’s case is one of only five for which the court has published written judgments in the past two years.

It was sparked by a 2007 “life membership” fee to NIBA.

The lawyer paying the fee said he’d been told it was necessary to join to practice on the island, a claim Walsh denied.

That and other conduct, including Walsh’s chairing of an unrecognised international tribunal connected to the sovereign citizen movement, amounted to professional misconduct, the Supreme Court found in 2017.

It ordered he pay the costs of the Supreme Court’s registrar, which brought the misconduct case.

Walsh was struck from the Norfolk Island roll in 2018 and the Victorian roll in 2019.

He founded the International Tribunal for Natural Justice in 2015 which claims to be the “world’s first court of natural justice committed to the restoration of truth and reasons to the delivery of justice in the world (sic)”.

The court sat in Bali in 2019 for an inquiry into the “weaponisation of the biosphere” while a 2020 inquiry concerning the pandemic heard from discredited academic and anti-vaccine activist Andrew Wakefield.

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