Transparency calls for judge appointments

·2-min read

Set criteria for appointing federal judges could be published in a bid to make the appointment process more transparent.

The Australian Law Reform Commission has also called for expression of interest in the process of recruiting judges on their merits.

In a report into judicial impartiality, tabled in federal parliament on Tuesday, the ALRC has also called for a commitment to promoting diversity, and for the annual reporting of diversity statistics.

The establishment of a federal judicial commission is another of the 14 recommendations and would provide an independent mechanism for addressing concerns about judicial behaviour or impairment, the ALRC found.

Existing procedures are designed to deal with issues on a case-by-case basis, and there have been concerns that isolated incidents of poor judicial conduct have not been adequately addressed.

A judicial commission would address those concerns, while proactively supporting judges to uphold appropriate standards.

Australians have a generally high level of confidence in judges and the courts, the report found.

Research shows Australians have higher confidence in the courts than in business and industry, federal parliament and the news media, falling only behind university research centres.

But levels of confidence differ across and within some community groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who reported low levels of trust in the justice system.

The report also examined the existing laws relating to actual and apprehended bias, ultimately finding no substantive changes to the law were needed.

But they've made recommendations designed to allow disqualification or recusal from cases to be seen as a positive step, rather than a negative reflection of a judge's ability or willingness to uphold their oath and act without fear or favour.

"Research shows that it is difficult for judges, like any person, to see their own biases, and to see how their own actions may be perceived by others," the report says.

More than half the recommendations are not new but come from reports published between 1982 and 2018, the ALRC said.

Those include creating a structured and transparent approach to the training and professional development of judges, including an ongoing program of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cross-cultural education.

The federal government will consult widely on the recommendations before responding further, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said.

Mr Dreyfus described himself as a longstanding supporter of a federal judicial commission, and said steps were already being taken to return the judicial appointment process to a more transparent and merits-based approach.

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