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Backlog of cases still looms over Refshauge

Richard Refshauge.

Richard Refshauge. Photo: Richard Briggs

The legal fraternity has expressed concern at the output of ACT Supreme Court judge Richard Refshauge since he took time away from the bench.

Justice Refshauge was stood down in February for an undisclosed amount of time - believed to be at least six months - to deal with a backlog of cases awaiting judgment.

Saturday marked three months since he stopped hearing cases.

The ACT Supreme Court web page reveals that the judge has delivered nine judgments, two of which were ex tempore, in the three months since he was excused from his duties.

The Supreme Court registry declined to provide details of Justice Refshauge's outstanding workload.

But Fairfax Media believes the former director of public prosecutions still has about 20 substantive cases awaiting judgment to

complete before the August deadline.

The outstanding caseload includes a number of decisions reserved for longer than 18 months, with one more than four years old.

Justice Refshauge's future could be uncertain if the backlog is not cleared by spring.

The judge was excused from his duties after the Bar Association made a formal complaint to the ACT government in December about the number of long-reserved civil judgments.

Under the all-or-nothing complaints regime, Attorney-General Simon Corbell had to choose whether to dismiss the grievance or convene a three-judge commission.

A commission is the only way to remove a judge or magistrate, but to order one, Mr Corbell must be satisfied that the issue, if proved, amounted to a sackable offence. Mr Corbell dismissed the ACT Bar Association's complaint and the judge was instead given time off court work until his reserved judgments were delivered.

He may not be so lucky if the backlog is not cleared.

ACT Bar Association president Greg Stretton, SC, said: ''While we understand that his honour has a number of well-advanced drafts of judgments, the concern of the bar association is that, in the three months remaining, it does appear unlikely that all outstanding judgments will be delivered.

''Should that be the position it would be disastrous for both the litigants and the judge.''

But Chief Justice Terence Higgins has previously said he was confident Justice Refshauge would clear his caseload.

The ACT Law Society declined to comment on the matter.

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