Justice Richard Refshauge. Photo: Richard Briggs
ACT Supreme Court Justice Richard Refshauge will be excused his duties for the second time in 12-months to allow him to deal with a backlog of cases awaiting judgment.
Attorney-General Simon Corbell will announce on Monday that retired judge John Nield will return to the territory as acting judge while Justice Refshauge takes an undisclosed amount of time away from the bench to deliver judgments on outstanding cases.
"The addition of Judge Nield will permit Justice Refshauge … to complete reserve judgments and ensure that hearings and other court matters are not unnecessarily delayed," the Attorney-General said.
Mr Nield, a former NSW District Court judge, has previously sat as acting judge of the ACT Supreme Court in 2010 and again during the
12-week court "blitz" of 2012 which saw 100 criminal cases listed and 115 civil cases finalised.
The appointment of Mr Nield follows Mr Corbell's rejection of an official complaint made by the ACT Bar Association in December 2012, four months following the "blitz", about the time it took Justice Refshauge to hand down judgments.
Fairfax reported in late 2012 that Justice Refshauge's civil caseload included more than 20 decisions reserved for longer than 18 months and, at the time, some criminal trials were not listed until mid-2014. The Attorney-General dismissed the complaint and committed funds for another acting position.
In a statement due to be released on Monday Mr Corbell says Mr Nield will hold the acting judge position for a six-month period. But on Sunday Mr Corbell could only confirm Mr Nield will begin work in the Supreme Court on Monday, February 11.
"As to how long the judge is utilised by the Supreme Court will be a matter for the Chief Justice," he said. The ACT Law Society welcomed Mr Nield's return. "It's a good temporary appointment as Justice Nield is very experienced with the ACT court … he will be a great asset,'' ACT Law Society president Noor Blumer said.
''Extra judges or judicial officers will be of great benefit in the next year or two to allow the judges that we have bring their reserve judgments up to date."
Mr Corbell played down calls that there was a need for a fifth Supreme Court judge.
He said the government would be monitoring the effectiveness of a case management system to be implemented when the 2013 legal year starts on Monday.
- with Michael Inman