Paul Conlon, Judge

I have always been intrigued by the question of what role a criminal lawyer or a prosecutor allows intuition to play in the courtroom. I took my question to Paul Conlon, who has been a Crown Prosecutor in NSW since 1986 and the last eight years has been involved in nothing other than murder prosecutions.

I met Paul in his chambers after a busy day at court. He is a seriously intense man who is known around chambers as always having a ‘feel’ for a case that he is prosecuting which usually is correct.

Paul began by saying:

I found it interesting that you wanted to talk about intuition, because what springs to my mind was a jury selection a few years ago. It was a murder trial in a country town and I just did not like the look of a young girl on the jury panel.

She would have been about 23 had dyed short black hair and looked to me like a uni student. We had employed a Witness assistance officer with degrees in psychology. When I asked what she thought about that girl, my solicitor leant back to the Witness assistance officer for her opinion. She said, I think she looks studious, an intelligent young girl.

So, against my better judgement I allowed myself to be swayed and I left her on the panel. That murder trial ended up being after three days aborted because the jury could not reach a verdict. Later, we received letters telling us that the girl was disruptive, the only one who refused to listen to the other jurors. She felt sympathy for the defendant and therefore could not bring back a murder verdict. Consequently, the whole trial was aborted.

To this day, I kick myself that I did not have her removed from the panel.

The letters from the other jurors vindicated what I had thought of her. My working life is about attempting to sum up people in the quickest possible time. I am doing that daily, in court and there is no doubt I tend to do it when meeting people in my social life. I can probably form a view about someone very quickly and nine times out of ten after I get to know the person I find that my first impression was spot on, absolutely spot on.

Paul also spoke about cross-examination of witnesses:

When I am on my feet cross-examining a witness, I have to make a decision when I need to stop. There may be more topics that I could cross-examine on, but I might not get that far with them, so I think do I really need them? No, I don’t, so sit down. Some of the decisions like that may be intuitive.

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