Page 2315 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 5 June 2013
There simply is no basis for arguing that we need more judges. There is no immediate correlation between the workload of a judge and the population of a jurisdiction. We have fewer lodgements per head of population than any other jurisdiction, less work per judicial officer than every other jurisdiction except the Northern Territory. That is where our Supreme Court sits, based on the Productivity Commission’s reports. And it is for these reasons that the government does not support proposals to increase the number of resident judges on the bench in the Supreme Court.
Delay in the court is a serious and grievous issue and one that I take extremely seriously. But we need to respond to it by looking at the systematic reasons why delay occurs. And it is not because there are not enough judges. The facts demonstrate that. It is because of the way matters are managed. That is why the government has worked with the court to put in place measures that will improve the way matters are managed.
There is, of course, a very famous—I should say infamous—judgement from the High Court of Australia known as Aon. And in that judgement one of the judges makes the observation that the court was tardy in the way the matter was managed. There was more colourful language than that, but we all know what Aon says. But the message from Aon is that the court has to improve the way it manages cases, that it does not allow for delay and that it does not accept as a matter of right the need for continual adjournment, relisting or for time lines to simply slip because it is not convenient for one party or another. That is what case management is designed to address. And that is the focus the government wishes to bring to this matter. It is for those reasons the government will not be supporting this bill today.
MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (4.30): Delays in justice certainly are a serious matter. They leave people waiting on remand, they compound emotional suffering for victims and they burden the community with additional costs. Currently the ACT Supreme Court has an unacceptably long waiting list. Listing dates can be many months. Some judgements have been reserved for several years. I have met with and spoken to many stakeholders about this issue. There is a lot of concern in the community and in the legal profession, and it is clearly an issue that needs attention.
Mr Seselja’s solution is to appoint a fifth judge to the Supreme Court. The bill he has presented would achieve that by amending the territory’s Supreme Court Act. Currently that act says that the executive may by commission appoint as resident judges a Chief Justice of the court and other judges of the court. It does not specify a number of judges. Mr Seselja’s bill seeks to change the act, firstly, so that the executive must appoint resident judges and, secondly, so that the appointment must include a Chief Justice and at least four other judges.
This is, of course, a simple mechanism for Mr Seselja to reprosecute the case for the ACT Supreme Court having a fifth judge. As members know, this is an issue that the Assembly debated comprehensively in March this year. At that time Mr Seselja introduced a motion to the Assembly calling for a fifth judge. The Labor Party and the ACT Greens represented by me did not support that call. This is essentially a matter of timing. I believe some day the court will need a fifth judge, but I do not believe that time is now. It is not the right time to appoint the additional judge. This is because the