Ernest Schmatt awarded AM for significant service to the law

Ernest Schmatt says the commission has a world wide reputation, and many of the programs it has developed have been used as models not only within Australia, but internationally. Picture: supplied
Ernest Schmatt says the commission has a world wide reputation, and many of the programs it has developed have been used as models not only within Australia, but internationally. Picture: supplied

A lawyer, who has been at the helm of the Judicial Commission of NSW since its creation amid great controversy 31 years ago, has been honoured in the Australia Day awards.

Ernest Schmatt, of Kareela, was made a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia.

Mr Schmatt was honoured for significant service to the law in the field of legal education and review, and through the use of technology to assist the judiciary.

The Judicial Commission, an independent statutory corporation which reports to Parliament, provides education for judges and magistrates, investigates complaints made against them and compiles sentencing information.

It remains the only body of this kind in Australia and has developed an international reputation, with its educational programs copied in many other jurisdictions.

The commission comprises the heads of each of the state’s five major courts, as well as the president of the Court of Appeal, along with community representatives.

Mr Schmatt, who held senior legal and management positions in the public sector, helped establish the commission and was its first deputy chief executive.

In March 1989, he was appointed chief executive, and has held the position since.

The state government’s announcement in 1986 it intended to establish the body was highly controversial, and led to heated exchanges in Parliament and between Chief Justice Sir Laurence Street and Attorney-General, Terry Sheahan.

The move followed a perceived loss of public confidence in the judiciary after High Court judge Lionel Murphy and former Chief Magistrate Murray Farquhar were tried for attempting to pervert the course of justice, complaints about a District Court judge and allegations of lengthy delays in delivering judgments and inconsistent and lenient sentencing.

Mr Schmatt was recruited to work on setting up the new commission after his involvement as solicitor assisting the Woodward royal commission into the death of anti-drugs crusader Donald Mackay.

Mr Schmatt said his strong belief at that time in the contribution the commission could make had been borne out.

”I think the commission is one of the most important bodies in the justice system of this state,” he said,

“It has proved its worth through the number of education programs it has run and its other work in providing sentencing information and the investigation of complaints.

“The commission has a world wide reputation and many of the programs we have developed have been used as models not only within Australia, but internationally.”

Mr Schmatt said an example was directions given by judges to juries had been copied by many jurisdictions, including in England and Wales.

Mr Schmatt said a major achievement of the commission was its work in Aboriginal cultural awareness.

“I have been heavily involved in this since 1992, following the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody,” he said.

Mr Schmatt said the commission’s work included taking judges and magistrates into Aboriginal communities, where they could hear first-hand the experiences.

Mr Schmatt and his wife, who have lived in Kareela since their marriage 47 years ago, have four daughters and six grandchildren.