Magistrate Peter Smid
Magistrate Peter Smid

No more honour among criminals: Magistrate

THERE IS no honour among criminals and offending, including by children, has become "really nasty" a retiring Townsville magistrate has said.

Magistrate Peter Smid, who will retire at the end of August, also reflected on how youth crime is a "big problem" and children very often don't have any empathy for their victims.

"When I first started most of the crims were honest," he said.

"That's to say that wouldn't rob old ladies and do any of those nasty things.

"Carjacking is something new, this business of handbag snatching is something new, targeting old people's homes for break and enters. You know, you'd have to be a complete low-life to be doing that.

"I would say to the kids too, when I first started a lot of the crims were honest, you crims are just terrible because there's no honour among you."

Magistrate Peter Smid during his time as a prosecutor with the DPP. Oct 2005.
Magistrate Peter Smid during his time as a prosecutor with the DPP. Oct 2005.

Mr Smid said a breakdown of the family unit, alongside a natural increase in population, had played a major role in the rise of youth crime.

"What is the next? Well, I don't know," he said.

"The solution is not necessarily as simple as it might seem to be.

"The community will basically say, you can put a man on Mars but you can't make my house safe? And I don't think the community gets it wrong."

"But to bang them up? That's the conventional way of doing it, that's the way I've been doing it," Mr Smid said.

"You give (youth offenders) longer and longer sentences.

"The question is, does it all work? It requires a big think really."

RETHINKING HOME.

Mr Smid still speaks with a Dutch lilt despite spending most of his life in Australia.

Born in Cirebon, on the north coast of Indonesia's Java, a young Peter Smid moved home to Holland with his family at the age of 7 on doctors' advice after being struck by polio.

Part way through studying economics at Amsterdam University, a 20-year-old Mr Smid was awarded a scholarship to Monash University.

"Between you and me I didn't study much, I had so much fun," he said.

He went home for half a year before moving to Australia permanently, without a degree.

He worked in pharmaceutical companies before returning to study at what is now known as the Queensland University of Technology.

Mr Smid was admitted as a barrister upon graduation in 1983.

He worked at the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) before moving to the private bar in 1989.

"I've been lucky all my life really when it comes to work," Mr Smid said.

"And so I'd been there (at the Brisbane DPP) for quite a while and I was getting a bit tired of the same old things. I wanted to change.

"I think originally I wanted to go to Tasmania, and try my life there because I really liked it."

He turned down an offer to apply for the role of consultant crown prosecutor in Brisbane, before being appointed Crown prosecutor for the Northern DPP in 2000.

Magistrate Peter Smid began his service in 2007, and will leave at the end of August 2019 only because he has reached the compulsory retirement age of 70.

"My view is you need to have a love for the human condition," Mr Smid said.

"You need to feel for your fellow human beings … I am enormously curious as to how they operate, and their work and I just find it fascinating.

"So, to hell with the law, I just find the people aspect so interesting."

 

Magistrate Peter Smid, at Townsville Court, is retiring. Picture: Evan Morgan
Magistrate Peter Smid, at Townsville Court, is retiring. Picture: Evan Morgan

GAINING NOTORIETY

Over the years Mr Smid has gained a reputation for being a no-nonsense officer of the judiciary, whose comments are short but sharp, something he admits.

"I get to the point, I don't pussyfoot around," he said.

A ruling he made in 2010 gained nationwide notoriety, running on the front of the Townsville Bulletin under the headline F*CK BOMB.

"It was a hysterical case, it was pathetic," he said.

Magistrate Peter Smid in August 2010 threw out a court case against Mundingburra man Bardon Kaitira, 28, who swore at a female officer outside a nightclub days before Christmas.

He ruled Mr Kaitira's arrest by the officer was "overkill" and that those on the beat would be "quite immune to the words".

The decision sparked backlash, including from the Queensland Police Union who called for an urgent appeal of the case.

Mr Smid said he received hate mail from as far as Western Australia saying the ruling was an abomination.

He stands by the decision as one made in the context of the situation, that Mr Kaitira had used it in exasperation and not in its more vulgar form.

"I just couldn't see what the fuss was about, the Bulletin had it on its front page, the text was bigger than the paper itself," Mr Smid said.

COPPING CRITICISM

With a career spanning decades, Mr Smid is no stranger to criticism about sentencing in the media or the community deems "light on".

The pile on has been rampant in recent years, with Queensland Chief Justice Catherine Holmes previously voicing her concern about how media and political discourse can undermine judicial independence.

"There seems to be an increasing, damaging willingness to attack that system as a whole on the strength of dissatisfaction with a very small number of decisions," she wrote in The Australian.

Mr Smid believes that "generally speaking" the public probably doesn't get it wrong.

"But I add to that, the proviso that, of course, you don't get to see as members of the public what I see," he said.

"And the sentencing process has a couple of things. One is to punish the offender to send out a signal to like-minded people and the aspect of rehabilitation must loom large, these are all things that one has to consider.

"I still don't necessarily say the public gets it wrong, it's a bit like John Howard used to say, the electors are never wrong.

"One has to respect public opinion, when you go out there among the community, the sentiment there, the number of people who have been touched by crime, or a friend or a neighbour or a family member have been touched by crime, you know, we're all affected by it."

Magistrate Peter Smid with Magistrate Viviana Keegan
Magistrate Peter Smid with Magistrate Viviana Keegan

NEW BROOMS SWEEP CLEAN

Mr Smid, who intends to carry on his law career after retiring as a magistrate, admits serving in children's court has worn him down.

Townsville Magistrates Court, according to an annual report, handled 5.8 per cent of all criminal charges at its level in Queensland in 2017/18.

A total of 9587 defendants, on a total of 21,202 criminal charges, flowed through Townsville Magistrates Court that year.

Of those, 10 per cent were children.

Magistrate Viviana Keegan, who was appointed in 2018, will succeed Mr Smid.

Prior to being appointed, Magistrate Keegan worked as a barrister in Townsville for a decade after spending about 7 years at the DPP.

Mr Smid was her mentor and boss and the pair have become good friends.

Ms Keegan gave a speech on behalf of the DPP when Mr Smid was first sworn in as a magistrate.

"You brought to the DPP a wealth of legal knowledge, a robust advocacy style and above all, a quirky Dutch sense of humour," she said.

"Rather than be a boss from afar, dictating to his minions, you managed by participating and by guiding."

Mr Smid said he was glad someone else had taken over from him in the children's court.

"She's fresh, and I think it needs a fresh approach too, as they say, new brooms sweep clean," Mr Smid said.

"I've had enough of (the children's court), but that's not to say it hasn't been very rewarding in many ways, not the least of it working with (the Department of) Youth Justice. I'm so impressed by them."

There will be no golf or lawn bowls in Mr Smid's retirement, though there may be some birdwatching and reading from his veranda in-between new work.

"I think I've actually slowed down a bit over the years, but I don't recognise age, I refuse to recognise that as an impediment to anything," he said.

"So I tried to stay young, by just being natural and being me and then just having a can do attitude.

"But I certainly no, I don't intend to play golf, or bowls, or bingo or do Meals on Wheels, I don't intend to do that, that's for old people."

Mr Smid, a qualified mediator, will take a spot on the State Government's dispute resolution centre panel instead.

Court clerk Louise Herring with Magistrate Peter Smid, at Townsville Court, who is retiring. Picture: Evan Morgan
Court clerk Louise Herring with Magistrate Peter Smid, at Townsville Court, who is retiring. Picture: Evan Morgan

TIME TO GO

"That's a good way to leave, to say I'm sad to leave, if you said I can't wait then you can't have had a good time," he said.

"I will miss the practitioners too and the people.

"You see, a lot of the defendants are not bad people at all, most people who appear in court are not evil … a very small proportion are truly evil which you don't see many of those in my view.

"I love mankind, I love watching it and I love being interested."