Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2015 Week 01 Hansard (Tuesday, 10 February 2015) . . Page.. 102 ..
I would like to also recognise the high calibre of judicial officers currently working in the ACT’s courts and tribunals. I would like to thank the Chief Magistrate and the Chief Justice for their support and input into the development of this initiative we debate today.
The ACT’s current statutory framework for handling judicial complaints is limited to that set out in the Judicial Commissions Act. Complaints generally arrive by letter to the attorney rather than through any formal complaints process. Under the act, the Attorney-General may ask the executive to appoint a judicial commission to investigate a complaint, but only if the Attorney-General believes that the complaint could, if substantiated, warrant the removal of a judicial officer from that office.
There is no formal mechanism for dealing with a complaint about a judicial officer that, while requiring attention, does not warrant removal of the officer from their office. Such complaints can be referred administratively to the relevant head of jurisdiction, but there is no legal framework to receive them, to investigate them or to make any findings about them. This means there is no formal or supported way to consider and address poor performance or poor behaviour by judicial officers—behaviour that may impact on the performance of the officer’s judicial functions but does not warrant their removal from office.
At present such behaviour can only be addressed if it accelerates to become serious misbehaviour of a level that justifies the establishment of a judicial commission. Setting up a commission is a very serious matter, one which no government would undertake if there was another appropriate option. It is certainly not a situation I would ask of any person in this office.
In contrast, New South Wales currently operates a standing judicial commission which, among many other functions, independently receives, investigates and makes recommendations about complaints against judicial officers. The commission’s powers are broad enough to refer serious complaints to the Attorney-General to begin removal proceedings or to recommend that less serious administrative steps be taken by the relevant court.
The primary change made by this bill, therefore, is the creation of a judicial council that can receive, investigate and take appropriate action to address complaints against judges and magistrates based on the well-established principles from New South Wales.
The council consists of the most appropriate and qualified people to deal with them: the Chief Justice, the Chief Magistrate, a legal practitioner directly nominated by the Law Society and the bar, and one member who is selected by the executive on the basis of their skills and experience.
The council will have two staff members to ensure it has sufficient support to properly exercise its functions. The support staff will provide an information point for members of the public, will support the council by dealing with general inquiries and complaints and will provide relevant secretarial support. They will also ensure all of