Coalition to strengthen judicial independence

Key features
• Court administration independent of government control

• Independent Judicial Appointments Advisory Panel
• Abolition of Labor’s “acting judges” model
• Part-time judges with strong safeguards
• Retaining separate Judicial College of Victoria
• Restoring independence to Victoria Law Foundation
• Establishing Judicial Complaints Commission

A Victorian Liberal Nationals Coalition Government will implement far-reaching reforms to strengthen judicial independence in Victoria, Coalition Leader Ted Baillieu said today.

A Coalition Government will
• establish a new Courts Executive Service, independent of departmental or political control, which will provide the executive support for all Victorian courts and for VCAT;
• transfer the staffing and resources currently in the Courts Division of the Department of Justice to the new Courts Executive Service;
• introduce a Judicial Appointments Advisory Panel based on the Federal model to advise the Attorney-General on potential judicial appointments;
• abolish Labor’s practice of appointing acting judges other than retired former judges;
• substantially boost the range of potential appointees as judges by introducing appointments on a part-time basis, with strict safeguards to preserve judicial independence and avoid conflicts of interests;
• establish a Judicial Complaints Commission to investigate complaints about poor or inappropriate performance by judges, magistrates or VCAT officers;
• retain a separate Judicial College of Victoria to provide impartial and independent judicial education, professional development and reference material for Victoria’s judges and tribunal members; and
• return the Victoria Law Foundation to genuine independence by reducing to two the number of board members nominated by the Attorney-General and restoring the Chief Justice or nominee as chair of the board.

“Under Labor, Attorney-General Rob Hulls has engaged in disgraceful and dishonest attacks on the judiciary and has increasingly sought to interfere in and control the functioning of the courts, as we saw with the Judicial Commission Bill,” Mr Baillieu said.

“Victorians have lost faith in Rob Hulls as Victoria’s chief legal officer and they no longer trust him to exercise his office fairly or competently,” Mr Baillieu said.

“Department of Justice officers should not be able to access the email systems and computer files of judges, and court administrative staff should be appointed by and accountable to the courts, not the Department of Justice and the Attorney-General.”

Under the Coalition’s reforms, the Courts Executive Service will have a board consisting of the main heads of jurisdiction. The Chief Executive Officer will be appointed by and answerable to the heads of jurisdiction.

The Coalition will further strengthen judicial independence by scrapping Labor’s practice of appointing acting judges other than retired former judges.

“Judicial independence is gravely weakened when the government of the day appoints acting judges whose remuneration and ongoing employment are dependent on the favour of the Attorney General,” Mr Baillieu said.

The Judicial Appointments Advisory Panel will consist of persons such as an eminent retired judge, the head of jurisdiction and a person experienced in high-level recruitment. It will identify and advise the Attorney-General on potential judicial appointments.

The Coalition’s introduction of part-time judges will allow a wide range of able people who might not otherwise be able or willing to take on judicial office to become available for appointment as a result of the establishment of part-time positions.

Many women lawyers, in particular, may welcome the opportunity to be appointed on a part-time basis that will enable them to better balance their work and family arrangements.

Part-time judges will not be permitted to carry on a legal practice or undertake other legal-related work while they hold office, and any other paid work will only be able to be undertaken with the permission of the head of jurisdiction. Appointments as part-time judges and variations in part-time hours will need to be consistent with the staffing needs of the jurisdiction.

The Coalition will also legislate to establish a Judicial Complaints Commission to investigate complaints about poor or inappropriate performance by judges, magistrates or VCAT officers. The Commission will be answerable to the Parliament rather than to executive government.

Any allegations involving criminal conduct or corruption will still be able to be made to and investigated by the independent, broad-based anti-corruption commission to be established by the Coalition.