Judge rebuked for taking four days to read Wagga judgment

District Court Judge Garry Neilson in 2015. Photo: Fairfax
District Court Judge Garry Neilson in 2015. Photo: Fairfax

The state's highest court has rebuked a Sydney judge for reading aloud an epic 17-hour judgment over four days, costing taxpayers and the parties thousands of dollars in court and legal fees.

District Court Judge Garry Neilson - who courted controversy in 2015 after making comments about incest, paedophilia and homosexuality - raised the ire of two Court of Appeal judges for delivering a lengthy judgment on the bench rather than publishing written reasons.

Justice Ruth McColl, the acting president of the Court of Appeal, said Judge Neilson read aloud a 138-page judgment over four days in a Sydney courtroom last year after hearing a six-day negligence case in Wagga Wagga in May.

The case concerned a man who sued for compensation after he was thrown from a horse which bucked after a car drove past.

Judge Neilson awarded the rider almost $340,000 in damages after finding he was involved in a "motor accident" owing to the negligence of the driver. The Court of Appeal disagreed and overturned the decision.

In a judgment delivered on Tuesday, Justice McColl said there was "no explanation ... as to why his Honour delivered a judgment of such length while sitting in court, rather than, as is customary with a judgment of such length, handing down written reasons".

Justice Mark Leeming said all judgments were delivered orally 200 years ago but 100 years later "the tradition was in the process of being substantially eroded".

"Oral delivery of reasons occupying more than one day was, and is, extremely unusual," Justice Leeming said.

He said this "appears not to be an isolated case" and Judge Neilson had also delivered oral judgments over three or four days in June, September and October 2015.

Judge Neilson had directed the parties to have agents - typically legal practitioners - sit in court to hear the reasons rather than attending in court.

Justice Leeming said a "highly controversial" High Court decision on constitutional law, Duncan v State of Queensland, was argued over 12 days and the judgment was delivered in 1916 "in a single day", as were other "large and important appeals".

A 1977 English case "of the first order of importance", Tito v Waddell, was heard over 100 days and the reasons delivered over four days. This was "exceptional" even for a lengthy trial, he said.

"Until I encountered this appeal, I was unaware that there were modern counterparts," Justice Leeming said.

While the case was "extremely important" to the parties it fell into a "different category" to the cases he cited and "times have changed", Justice Leeming said.

He said there was both a public cost in paying court officers and court-appointed reporters to prepare a transcript of the proceedings as well as a private cost to the parties in paying for representatives to sit in court for days.

Litigation was also "stressful to litigants", and the plaintiff would not have known "until the third day" if he had won or lost the case.

Judge Neilson was referred to the Judicial Commission in 2014 after he said that, like homosexuality, the community may no longer see sexual contact between siblings, as well as between adults and children, as "unnatural" or "taboo".

The commission found in 2015 that it was no longer appropriate for Judge Neilson to hear cases involving sex crimes.

Judge Neilson declined to comment.