Herald Sun columnist Alan Howe, who said Judge Felicity Hampel 'might be among our worst judges'.

THE state's most senior judges have questioned whether a newspaper columnist aimed to undermine respect for the rule of law when he launched a ''personal attack'' on a County Court judge.

Herald Sun columnist Alan Howe on Monday wrote that Judge Felicity Hampel was perhaps ''a delicate petal'' and ''might be among our worst judges''.

''I'd be happy if she just walked,'' Howe wrote, after referring to the newspaper's previous report that four of five appeals against Judge Hampel's decisions were upheld last year.

Judge Felicity Hampel.

County Court Chief Judge Michael Rozenes said that reporting the numbers without detailing the subject of the appeals and the nature of the error which led to them ''should be an embarrassment to Mr Howe''.

Chief Judge Rozenes, whose statement was supported by Victorian Chief Justice Marilyn Warren and Chief Magistrate Ian Gray, said that it was important to have a public debate about sentencing, but an informed one.

''There is little to be gained in personal attacks on individual judges and the focus on particular cases without an understanding of their context or how the system of criminal justice operates,'' he said. ''That is, unless the goal is to illegitimately undermine the administration of justice and respect for the rule of law.''

Chief Judge Rozenes said no judge was above criticism but that it should be fair and informed. He said the fact Judge Hampel had left two legal gatherings due to ''sexist comments made by people who should know better is hardly a basis for founding Mr Howe's criticism that she 'makes bad decisions'.''

Chief Judge Rozenes said the ''delicate petal'' comment was ''hardly a criticism'' Howe would level at a male judge.

It is believed that the newspaper had planned to publish the judge's statement next week. In a letter published yesterday, Law Institute of Victoria president Caroline Counsel said judicial discretion was paramount and waging personal attacks on judges was disrespectful.

http://www.countycourt.vic.gov.au

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