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Judge gets time out to catch up

Date

Louis Andrews

Justice Richard Refshauge.

Justice Richard Refshauge. Photo: Richard Briggs

The ACT government will not convene a judicial commission to investigate Supreme Court Justice Richard Refshauge's backlog of long-reserved civil judgments.

But Chief Justice Terence Higgins will be asked to give his judicial colleague as much time away from court as it takes for him to clear his decks.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell on Friday said he had dismissed the ACT Bar Association's unprecedented complaint into the former director of public prosecutions.

The minister said he would ask the Chief Justice to give the judge a reprieve from court work until his reserved judgments were delivered.

Mr Corbell said he would appoint an acting judge to fill in for Justice Refshauge until all his long-reserved judgment were handed down.

The compromise comes after weeks of speculation about the judicial officer's fate, and has been praised by the ACT Law Society.

But Bar Association president Greg Stretton, SC, said the situation demonstrated the need for a fifth full-time judge.

''It is the Chief Justice who must organise the business of the court, and determine whether the suggested course of action is appropriate or might place a greater and perhaps unfair burden on those judges who continue to sit,'' Mr Stretton said.

Justice Refshauge's outstanding caseload includes more than 20 decisions reserved for longer than 18 months.

One is more than four years old.

Last month Fairfax Media revealed the Bar Association had taken the extraordinary step of making a formal complaint under the Judicial Commissions Act.

The all-or-nothing complaints regime left Mr Corbell with just two choices: dismiss the complaint or convene a three-judge commission.

A commission is the only way to remove a judge or magistrate, but to order one the Attorney-General must be satisfied the issue, if proved, amounted to a sackable offence.

''I am not satisfied that even if the matters complained about were proved that it could amount to misbehaviour or incapacity such as to warrant the removal of a judicial officer,'' Mr Corbell said.

''That said, the delay is completely unacceptable, and it is incumbent on Justice Refshauge to deliver judgments in relation to these and indeed all of his reserved matters.''

Justice Refshauge became a judge in 2008 after a successful career as a prosecutor and senior counsel.

The Attorney-General said a range of factors in play soon after the judge's appointment ''compounded in creating delay''.

When taking office after almost a decade as DPP Justice Refshauge was unable to hear criminal cases due to potential conflicts of interest.

Justice Refshauge declined to comment on Friday, but Mr Corbell said the judge had given him ''absolute commitment to deliver judgment as soon as possible''.

ACT Law Society president Noor Blumer welcomed the decision.

''The Law Society remains seriously concerned with the number of reserved judgments in the ACT Supreme Court, but is optimistic that this arrangement will provide the best opportunity for Justice Refshauge to hand down those judgments so anxiously awaited by the Canberra community,'' she said.

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