Retiring: Judge Solomon has had a 30-year career. Photo: Ben Rushton
Criminal courts can be a ‘‘very dark place’’, where the worst of man’s inhumanity towards man is exposed, says the longest serving NSW District Court judge, Ronald Solomon.
On the eve of his retirement, having turned 72 on Saturday, Judge Solomon recalled a harrowing case early in his 30-year career on the bench that had a profound effect on him.
Governments do not provide sufficient resources to deal with underprivileged families.
The mother of a boy facing serious robbery offences was giving evidence about how her son had been treated like an animal by his father, who chained him to the back door and threw food to him.
‘‘The boy started to wail. It wasn’t a cry, it was a wail ... I just looked down and there was the hardened crown prosecutor with tears in his eyes. I had tears in my eyes. That’s something I will never forget,’’ Judge Solomon said at his top-floor chambers of the John Maddison Tower. ‘‘But I haven’t come out of that dark place in a black mood.’’
Judge Solomon will be appointed as an acting judge for a year from Monday.
‘‘I feel as if I am able to perhaps improve the lot of some individuals and the community ... I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the best job in the world.’’
After the District Court’s Chief Judge Reg Blanch, Judge Solomon was the most senior judicial officer of the district court.
Born in the then impoverished suburb of Darlinghurst, Judge Solomon grew up in a pub in the 1940s and attended the local public school where, as he said in a speech on Friday night at an informal farewell, most children did not wear shoes even in winter, and ‘‘there were daily fights over the morning recess milk, which was breakfast for most of the pupils.’’
His best mate’s mother was a prostitute and another friend’s mother was single and an alcoholic. Judge Solomon’s father had a big win at the races and they moved to Vaucluse.
‘‘I didn’t come into real contact again with the underprivileged, the damaged and the poor until I was appointed a judge in 1983, and since then they have played a very significant part in my thinking and my work life,’’ he said in his speech.
‘‘I knew from my early experience that poverty existed but I was not aware until I worked as a judge that physical poverty was in the main accompanied by emotional poverty, which most of the persons I have sentenced experienced through no fault of their own except that they were born into their environment.
‘‘In my view governments do not provide sufficient resources to deal with underprivileged families.’’
His daily sessions of transcendental meditation no doubt help, but it is the satisfaction of seeing a huge drop in crime over the past 20 years – partly due to increasingly affluence and a decrease in heroin supply – to which he attributes his usual high spirits.
‘‘Heroin is the great driver of robbery, break and enter and stealing,’’ he said.
Data released this week showed a 59 per cent drop in robberies over the past decade, largely due to a decline in heroin use.
‘‘We’re generally law-abiding. The system may have worked. But it’s also a question of poverty. Crime rates reflect the poverty rates and also reflect the amount of heroin in the community,’’ Judge Solomon said.
He said better policing and DNA technology, together with the deterrent effect of sentencing, have also helped reduce crime.