Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 5 Hansard (4 May) . . Page.. 1307 ..
MR HUMPHRIES: Mr Speaker, I think members are well aware of the circumstances of the announcement by the Chief Magistrate yesterday about the appointment of the Children's Court magistrates. The legislation that was passed by the Assembly a few weeks ago requires the designation, to use the language of the Act itself, of a Children's Court Magistrate and a Deputy Children's Court Magistrate, those two magistrates being the people who exclusively, as I understand the legislation, deal with Children's Court matters in the ACT. The assumption, I suppose, when the Assembly passed the legislation was that there would be the designation or appointment of two magistrates already on the bench to fulfil those roles for a period of three years as required by the legislation. I have seen the correspondence - I think members of this place also would have seen it - between the Chief Magistrate and his colleagues. Those full-time magistrates have all declined to accept the designation as either the Children's Court Magistrate or the Deputy Children's Court Magistrate. In the circumstances, the Chief Magistrate appointed himself as the Children's Court Magistrate and a special magistrate, Elizabeth Symons, as the Deputy Children's Court Magistrate.
The Chief Magistrate has complied with the law by doing so. Whether he had some other option or not is a matter that I cannot comment upon. Obviously, the other magistrates believed that they had the option of refusing to be designated in that role. Whether the Chief Magistrate had that right or not I do not know, but he did not seek my advice on that subject. In any case, in due course he chose to appoint himself to that role. I have to say that I think that the arrangement is not ideal. I do not think that it is what even the architects of the legislation would have envisaged as ideal to have the Chief Magistrate, who is, I would suggest, the busiest of the magistrates already, taking on the role of Chief Magistrate of the Children's Court as well, in effect, and indeed one of only two magistrates in that jurisdiction who can hear Children's Court matters. Mr Speaker, he was obviously reluctant about that, so were his colleagues. He expressed those views in a statement which he made to the court when it sat yesterday after he had made that decision.
Mr Speaker, it obviously concerns me that there is this conflict between the legislature and the judiciary, which is what it is. It is not the first time that there has been such conflict and it probably will not be the last time; but, as Attorney-General, I believe that my job is to attempt to find ways of solving the problem without the issue becoming a serious impediment to the delivery of justice by the Children's Court of the ACT. I intend to attempt to do that by discussing the matter further with both members of this place and the court.
MR SPEAKER: Do you have a supplementary question, Mr Osborne?
MR OSBORNE: Yes, thank you, Mr Speaker. Minister, are you aware that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires, in part, that in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by courts of law or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be the primary consideration? Do you agree with this statement? If so, does the provision of a specialist magistrate to the Children's Court for a reasonable period where consistency and the quality of care can become a priority not fulfil this requirement?