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Vexatious litigant’s appeal against ‘obscene object’ conviction dismissed

Queensland’s Chief Judge has rejected a renowned Ipswich ‘serial pest’ and vexatious litigant’s appeal against a rarely charged criminal conviction for publicly displaying “an obscene object tending to corrupt morals”.

District Court Chief Judge Brian Devereaux SC last week upheld an Ipswich magistrate’s decision to find Russell Gordon Haig Mathews guilty of knowingly and without lawful justification or excuse exposed to view – in a place the public had access to – an obscene object tending to corrupt morals.

The court was told Mathews had displayed signage at the front of his property at Booval, a suburb of Ipswich, between 1-4 February 2019 and that it was directed toward “Sixteen-plus YO school boys”.

Mathews had pleaded not guilty to the offence in the Ipswich Magistrates Court on 26 March 2021, but was subsequently found guilty by the presiding magistrate, who fined him $500 and recorded a conviction against him.

Mathews appealed the magistrate’s ruling – which is heard and decided by a District Court judge – under Section 222 of the Justices Act 1886.

Judge Devereaux noted he had “respectfully” tried to understand the appeal grounds made out by Mathews, who appeared in court as a self-represented litigant.

“Respectfully adopting the grounds as set out in (Mathews’) outline, (he) has appealed on the following basis,” he said.

“That the sign displayed on (Mathews’) house was not an ‘object’ as it was not a ‘picture, photograph, drawing or model’ but rather written words on a sign; the contents of the sign were not ‘obscene’ but were ‘political discourse’ and used to attract attention to the political signs also affixed to (Mathews’) house; That (Mathews) was denied natural justice by being denied his ‘disability aids’; and, that the decision of the learned Magistrate was induced or affected by fraud/corruption.”

The court was told Matthews was first arrested after police executed a search warrant on his premises and located the offending “object”.

Judge Devereaux, in describing the object, said: “The sign was large, described by the two police witnesses as between 3m and 4m wide”.

“The first line of the sign reads in large black letters, ‘Sixteen-plus YO’, smaller less bold letters ‘school’, then in large black letters ‘boys’, then in much larger letters on the second line in red, ‘free sex’.

“On the third line, in smaller lowercase black writing appears ‘No Catholics, drugs, cigs, grog’.

“The sign was erected out the front of (Mathews’) property. The fact that the sign was erected by (Mathews) and clearly accessible to the public was not in dispute.”

Matthews neither gave nor called evidence during his summary trial hearing, but appealed the magistrate’s finding of guilty.

Judge Devereaux, in his seven-page decision, dismissed Matthews’ appeal with reasons.

Mathews has regularly used his home property to publish frequently updated billboards accusing various public figures and institutions of alleged corruption over many years and in April 2017 became the 25th person to be added to the list of declared Queensland vexatious litigants.

A ‘vexatious litigant’ is someone who persistently begins legal actions but doesn’t have sufficient grounds for doing so.

Vexatious proceedings include cases that are started or pursued: to abuse the process of a court or tribunal; to harass or annoy, to cause delay or detriment, or for another wrongful purpose; and, without fair or reasonable grounds.

Under the Vexatious Proceedings Act 2005, the Supreme Court can declare someone a vexatious litigant and prohibit them from starting proceedings, or a certain type of proceeding, in Queensland without the court’s permission.

In September 2020, QLS Proctor revealed Matthews was ordered to pay $5000 in legal costs after a Supreme Court judge found him guilty of “scandalising the court” by displaying signs outside his home claiming the state’s highest court – and two named judicial officers – were corrupt.

Lawyers for Queensland’s then Attorney-General, Yvette D’Ath, in that case successfully argued the offensive signage had the capacity to lessen the public’s confidence in the impartiality and honesty of the officers of the court.

Read Judge Devereaux’s decision.

Read the September 2020 QLS Proctor article.

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