Judges slate Victorian judicial reform

Judges working in the Australian state of Victoria have warned that proposals to introduce acting judges within the state court system could impinge the independence of the judiciary.

In a letter to the attorney-general of Victoria Rob Hulls, the Judicial Conference of Australia (JCA) has voiced its opposition to the proposed Courts Legislation (Judicial Appointment and Other Amendments) Bill 2004, which was introduced to the Victorian Parliament earlier this year.

The bill proposes that the governor-in-council be given the powers to appoint barristers, solicitors and legal academics as acting judges for a term of up to five years to help clear any temporary backlogs in the state’s court system.

The JCA claimed that the proposed legislation “appears to go well beyond the practice in other jurisdictions”. For example, others limit the time acting judges can be appointed to a maximum of 6 to 12 months.

The association warned that if the proposed legislation was not amended, it would raise the issue of independence, because if acting judges wanted to be reappointed after their five-year term they could become conscious of making decisions in line with government policy.