A Justice of the Peace at Emerald has received a suspended sentence and been deregistered after she forged arrest warrants and child recovery orders.
Caroline Major, 63, pleaded guilty in the District Court last week to one count of forgery with a circumstance of aggravation in relation to the documents she issued in 2020, which she marked with the words “The Honourable Magistrate Major” and her JP registration number.
On Friday, the court was told how Major, who had been a JP for 15 years at the time of the offending, claimed to have “done her research before making the orders” when confronted with the allegations by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General (DJAG).
In January 2020, Major endorsed a warrant for the arrest of a woman and the woman’s mother, and the removal of a child from their care. The order provided that the boy be placed in the care of his maternal grandmother.
When the order was presented at a police station, officers enquired about its validity with a Magistrates Court, the Family Court of Australia and the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and were assured it was valid. Police then removed the child from his kinship carers and handed him to his grandmother.
In April 2020, Major endorsed a warrant for the arrest of a woman and the removal of her five children from her care. The order provided that the children be placed in the care of the paternal grandmother of three of the children.
When this order was presented at a police station, officers enquired about its validity with the AFP, who advised it appeared legitimate. Police then removed two of the children from their mother, handing them to their grandmother. The other three children were not at home when police arrived at the mother’s address.
The mother sought legal advice and contacted various courthouses, discovering there was no apparent record of the orders and that they were likely illegitimate.
The matter was referred to the DJAG and the Crime and Corruption Commission. A search warrant was executed at Major’s Woorabinda home in 2021, during which she admitted to having endorsed the orders.
Major was charged in March 2021, and in April this year, initially entered a not guilty plea to three charges. The matter had been listed for trial in Emerald District Court before Major entered a late plea of guilty to a single charge.
In his sentencing remarks, Judge Kent KC referred to comments made in precedent cases, relaying that: “Justices of the Peace have a valuable and trusted role within society and in the administration of justice, and significant powers. Public confidence in their lawful role should not be undermined.”
The Crown had sought a sentence of three years’ imprisonment, submitting that Major’s “conduct of forging official documents for the arrest of two adults and removal of children purporting to be a magistrate strikes at the heart of our legal system and breached the trust of the public”, and that her “actions were not an inadvertent overstep of (her) power, nor a one-off incident”.
Defence counsel had argued for a suspended sentence or immediate parole, with a head sentence of two years.
Judge Kent told Major her offending involved “serious breaches of your responsibilities as an appointed official, and pretending to be a judicial officer, with the associated impact on the administration of justice”.
“I take into account the damage or loss caused by your actions; the impact on the family members is substantial, but the true picture as to the eventual placement of some of the children is unclear,” he said.
“Another factor is your character together with your age and apparent intellectual capacity. Your character, while good in many respects, does not benefit you as much as in some other cases because it assisted in putting you in a position to be able to commit the offences.
“I have not been told of any particular assistance you gave to law enforcement agencies in the investigation of the offences. It is a plea of guilty however a late one, albeit in the context of negotiations.”
Judge Kent said it was appropriate that Major’s JP registration be removed, and he imposed a three-year jail term, suspended for three years.
Read the sentencing remarks here.