R v John Peter Hart NSW DC 2012/287164: prosecutions arising from the ICAC operation Segomo
Brett Thomson, CSO A/Deputy Crown Solicitor
Summary of prosecution of John Peter Hart
As a result of information received from police, the Independent Commission Against Corruption ("ICAC") commenced an investigation into a practising barrister Mr John Peter Hart. In March 2010 the ICAC published a report in relation to corrupt conduct affecting the administration of justice in the Wagga Wagga and other local court areas.
As a result of that investigation, on 15 March 2010, the ICAC made corrupt conduct findings against Mr Hart relating to his misleading of various courts by providing false information about his clients to obtain adjournments and changes of venues and by making false submissions in sentencing proceedings. Mr Hart did these things in an attempt to engineer more favourable outcomes for his client.
The alleged misconduct arose from Mr Hart's practise as a barrister appearing in local courts both in Sydney and regional New South Wales.
As a result of the fact that the allegations involved several witnesses employed in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, carriage of the prosecutions arising from the ICAC's findings was taken over by the Attorney General. Accordingly, the Crown Solicitor was instructed to advise and take carriage of the prosecutions.
Mr Hart was ultimately charged with a number of offences of a strictly indictable nature contrary to s. 319 of the Crimes Act 1900. On 18 November 2013, Mr Hart formally entered pleas of guilty to an amended indictment which contained five counts of perverting the course of justice contrary to s. 319, with a further five counts under s. 319 taken into account on a Form 1.
In the meantime in 2011, partly as a result of the ICAC findings, and partly as a result of financial irregularities, Mr Hart was declared to not be a fit and proper person to remain on the Roll of legal practitioners, and his name was removed from the Roll.
After a series of adjournments, Mr Hart's matters were listed for sentence before his Honour Judge Haesler SC on 22 August 2014 in the District Court at Darlinghurst. Mr Higgins of Counsel appeared for the Crown instructed by Brett Thomson, A/Deputy Crown Solicitor.
In sentencing Mr Hart, his Honour noted that Mr Hart was well educated, intelligent and an ambitious person who had become firstly a police prosecutor and later a member of the Bar. His Honour noted that the heavy drinking culture associated both with the police and the legal profession had contributed to Mr Hart's difficulties.
His Honour accepted the prosecution's submissions that the Local Court in particular relied upon on the candour of those who appear before it. His Honour noted that Mr Hart had relied upon his experience and general good fame in order to commit the offences.
His Honour noted that offences of this type strike at the heart of the criminal justice system. Notwithstanding the delay in sentencing Mr Hart, his Honour noted that it was important to denounce Mr Hart's conduct.
Mr Hart was sentenced to a total period of imprisonment of two years and nine months with a non-parole period of one year and ten months to date from 22 August 2014. He is eligible to be considered for release to parole on 21 June 2016.
The matter is significant because whilst there have been previous matters involving members of the judiciary and police engaged in perverting the course of justice, this matter was notable for the brazen nature of the conduct in the face of the court. Mr Hart engaged in outright deception directly in his practise as a barrister. Furthermore, he encouraged his clients to assist him by obtaining false references and in doing so involved them in his criminality.