In a case which has deep resonance for Britain and the entire civilized world, the whole of Australia has been glued to the media in recent weeks, following the story of an eminent judge who has ruined his reputation because he tried to lie his way out of a speeding fine that would have cost him about £36.
At the age of 70, he is about to go to jail for a minimum of two years because he failed to cough up 36 quid at the right moment.
Marcus Einfeld, the judge in question, was certainly of high enough degree – none higher. Queens Counsel since 1977, Australian Living Treasure 1997, United Nations Peace Award 2002, the list goes on. He retired a few years ago but has continually been brought back to judge important cases about refugees.
In 2006 a speed camera in Sydney caught his silver Lexus doing 6mph over the limit. At this point we have to forget about the dizzy speed of the car and try to slow down the thought processes going on in his head. There he is, at the top of his profession, with a reputation for wisdom.
As a judge of great matters of justice, Marcus Einfeld had deservedly been revered for many years. He had a right to think of himself as the very incarnation of the law. Now here he was, with a speeding ticket in his hand, facing a fine of a paltry £36 for having exceeded the speed limit by a lousy 6mph.
And right there, the fatal error begins to take form. It wasn’t so much the £36 fine. He could afford that. It was that the penalty points would bring him closer to losing his licence. Somehow the top judge and national treasure didn’t see himself in a position where he was not allowed to drive.
Perhaps Marcus Einfeld is one of those strange men who need to have a driving licence just so that they can get points on it, who think that the whole purpose of driving is to drive as far over the limit as they can and still get away with it, and still keep going for as long as the licence lasts even if they don’t get away with it.
But the judge was only 6mph over the limit, which scarcely made him a boy racer. He must have thought the prospect of getting yet more points on an already point-scarred licence was an awful lot of inconvenience for practically nothing, and he must also have thought how easy it would be to get out of it.
All he had to do was say that someone else was driving the silver Lexus that day. So he said he had lent the car to an American friend, Professor Theresa Brennan. Satisfied, the magistrate dismissed the case, and the judge walked free.
But Professor Theresa Brennan was an actual figure, who could be traced. When a newspaper did trace her, it turned out that she was no longer in existence. At the time of the speeding incident she had already been dead for three years.
It was probably already too late for Marcus Einfeld to save his career. Yet he might conceivably have climbed relatively unbesmirched out of the hole he was occupying, and even drawn some sympathy for the depth to which he had dug himself in.
But like President Nixon in the Watergate scandal, the judge chose to go on digging himself further towards the centre of the earth.
He said he didn’t mean that Theresa Brennan. He meant another Theresa Brennan.
Finally, in a skein of inventions that we needn’t bother to unravel, he managed to implicate his own mother, aged 94, when he claimed to have been using her Toyota Corolla that day, so he couldn’t have been at the wheel of his silver Lexus.
Alas, there was security camera footage to prove that his mother’s Toyota Corolla had not emerged from the garage of her apartment block between daylight and dusk.
Did any of this really matter? Well, obviously the original offence didn’t matter much. At 6mph over the limit, the judge wasn’t going to hurt anyone.
And the first lie shouldn’t have mattered much either. People really do lie all the time. Often they lie to protect themselves, sometimes they lie to protect their loved ones, and there is even such a thing as a saving lie, a lie that wards off the dreadful consequences of the truth.