ACT News

Judicial watchdog established despite concerns from Bar Association

ACT Bar Association president Shane Gill.
ACT Bar Association president Shane Gill. Photo: Graham Tidy

A new judicial watchdog has been established to hold judges and magistrates accountable for minor offences and to respond to complaints from the public

But a peak Canberra legal organisation has raised concerns about the council being exempt from oversight by judicial review.

The Judicial Complaints Bill passed the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, creating a new statutory framework for the handling of judicial complaints in the ACT.

The new council – which consists of the Chief Justice, Chief Magistrate and representatives of the legal profession and general community – has powers to receive, report and investigate complaints about the judiciary that wouldn't merit removal from office.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the "important reform" would increase transparency and accountability, while maintaining judicial independence and promoting community confidence in the justice system.

"I am pleased to deliver on our election commitment, and to continue to make improvements to continue to give the ACT community a justice system that is accountable, responsive and effective," Mr Corbell said.


Bar Association president Shane Gill welcomed the council's establishment and said judicial independence and accountability were key features of a properly functioning legal system.

"Until now there has been no effective avenue for dealing with complaints against the judiciary that do not merit the removal of a judge from office," Mr Gill said.

"The initiative of the Attorney-General in developing the Judicial Complaints Bill is a positive step in ensuring accountability in respect of the personal behaviour of a judge whilst at the same time protecting judicial independence."

But Mr Gill said the Bar held concerns that the council's operations would be excluded from judicial review.

Mr Gill said the process of judicial review to ensure the fair and appropriate exercise of administrative power had been long recognised in Australia.

"In the view of the Bar there does not seem to have been, as a matter of principle, a case made for its exclusion in respect of the operation of the judicial council," Mr Gill said.

"Those who make complaints and those the subject of complaints will therefore be denied the protections that judicial review would provide."

Mr Gill said the operation of the new system required careful monitoring to ensure the council operated effectively and in the manner intended.

Mr Corbell, who introduced the bill into the Legislative Assembly in November, said the council was not a new idea and had been debated during the 2012 election.

"We have had detailed consultation with judicial officers, magistrates and judges as well as the Law Society and the Bar Association," he said.

Mr Corbell said the judicial council would deal with complaints from performance and delays to simple matters such as the behaviour and manners of a judicial officer

"They can involve more serious matters such as allegations of not paying proper attention to matters," he said.

The bill established provisions for the Attorney-General to deal with complaints made against presidential members of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The head of each court jurisdiction will also be granted the power to refer a judicial officer for medical or psychological examination in the case of any suspected impairment.