Page 1929 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 27 June 2023

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While the scope of jurisdiction of associate and resident judges has become quite similar over time, there remains a small scope of criminal matters that resident judges are able to hear which an associate judge cannot. By replacing the associate judge position with a sixth resident judge, the bill facilitates a greater increase in listing flexibility and efficiency, as all Supreme Court judges would be able to hear all types of matters.

In addition to this measure, the bill extends the maximum term of acting judges from 12 months to two years. Currently, it is common for acting judges in the ACT Supreme Court to be reappointed over consecutive years for a series of one-year terms. As acting judges step in on an as-needs basis to cover cases when resident judges are unavailable, the extension of their terms of appointment will lead to greater efficiencies and support continuity of access to court resources.

The bill further improves the function of the ACT’s courts and protects judicial independence by clarifying immunity provisions for magistrates. The provisions relating to the immunity of magistrates have remained substantially unchanged since November 1930. The bill clarifies the immunity provisions to provide greater certainty on the scope and application of immunity to magistrates. The amendment will also extend immunity to registrars and deputy registrars when they exercise court functions that have been delegated to them. The amendment will better support independence in judicial decision-making and bring the ACT’s approach to magisterial immunity in line with other jurisdictions in Australia.

Another change that will enhance access to justice for the ACT community and that will align the ACT with other Australian jurisdictions is the measure regarding non-party costs orders. Currently, there is a law that prohibits ACT courts from making costs orders against a non-party to a proceeding, except under certain prescribed circumstances. The ACT is the only Australian jurisdiction to have this restriction. This can result in inequities and denial of justice to parties who are otherwise rightly entitled to receive costs.

The bill will enable the rule-making committee to make rules to enable the courts to order costs against non-parties to proceedings, where it is in the interests of justice to do so. The scope of this power will be appropriately limited by established common law principles that apply to making costs orders against non-parties.

Improvements to the ACT courts’ structures and processes made under this bill will facilitate greater efficiencies for court officers, court users and the public sector, and enable the courts to better serve the Canberra community.

Our conventions of representative democracy and responsible government are strengthened by a robustly defended right of access to justice, and efficiently administered by the judicial system. This bill serves as an important function in ensuring that our justice system will be effective and sustainable into the future by increasing the flexibility associated with court functions and processes. I commend the bill to the Assembly.

Debate (on motion by Mr Cain) adjourned to the next sitting.

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