Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 6 Hansard (15 June) . . Page.. 1874..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
Any limitation on that requirement beyond what is essential for the administration of justice-for example, the Children's Court-is a limitation on our collective freedom and our democratic system. Any person who wishes to attend a court hearing to see what is happening must be permitted to do so for no better reason than that-that they wish to see what is happening in the courts.
Some of my amendments go to the heart of that principle-to ensure that the courts remain open to the public. Despite this requirement to operate in the public gaze, the judiciary, the administrative staff and members of the public who either must be in a court or simply wish to be there, are entitled to attend to their daily activities in safety, free from fear of attack, just as the rest of us expect when we go about our business. The only dispute I have with the government's bill is its approach to how this safety is to be assured.
The former Attorney-General suggested in his presentation speech that the bill was introduced because court staff expressed concerns about the limitation of their current powers to deal with court security issues. It has been suggested to me that this may be a matter that could be adequately addressed by training or educating court staff in respect of their powers. It seems that the former Attorney suggested that judges or magistrates did not know what their powers are.
In any case, this bill does not address those concerns. It does not spell out what powers existing staff might have, or actions they could take, to eject troublemakers. Instead, it sets up a regime of armed security guards with extraordinary powers. But to whom are they accountable? They are not accountable to the court. It could be implied that they are accountable to the chief executive who appoints them and who can revoke that appointment. But even that is far from certain.
It should be remembered, Mr Speaker, that the chief executive has no direct responsibility for the courts. That responsibility lies with the chief judicial officer of each of the courts. Under section 7 of the Supreme Court Act the Chief Justice is responsible for the orderly and expeditious discharge of the business of the court. The Chief Magistrate has a similar responsibility expressed in section 10G of the Magistrates Court Act.
I suggest that the Chief Justice and the Chief Magistrate should be responsible for arranging the security of the courts. They can discharge this responsibility through their respective registrars, who have a statutory obligation to perform such functions as the court may direct.
In my amendments I am proposing that the chief judicial officers have power to contract security firms. I understand, for instance, that Chubb Security currently provides a service under contract to the courts. I am also proposing that any contracts that they enter must contain certain provisions, including that the objectives of the security service are articulated, the performance standards expected are embedded in the contract, and the contractor be subject to the FOI Act and the Ombudsman Act for services provided to the court. I have not included the Privacy Act because I do not expect a security service to be collecting personal information. The Commonwealth has amended that act to apply to the private sector generally.