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Chief Justice gives own Court bad health report

Briefs

Cite as: December 2009 83(12) LIJ, p.12


The heritage-listed Supreme Court building poses security and workplace health and safety concerns, according to Chief Justice Marilyn Warren.

In the Supreme Court of Victoria 2007-08 Annual Report, tabled in Parliament on 10 November, Chief Justice Warren said the building provided unsatisfactory conditions for jurors and was mainly inaccessible for the disabled.

Inadequate facilities were affecting the capacity of the Court to provide high quality and efficient service, trials were being transferred to the County Court building and having the Court scattered across five buildings was untenable, her Honour said.

She called on the government to commit funds for a modern building that would see the state’s highest court operating across a manageable two sites, including the heritage building, by 2014.

The annual report said the government had spent $22 million on refurbishing and restoring heritage aspects of the main Supreme Court building, but that “the project is only half done”.

Chief Justice Warren also said in the report that Court of Appeal hearing delays would feature prominently in the Supreme Court’s 2008-09 Annual Report (which is expected to be tabled by the end of the year).

Delays had been caused by an increase in criminal appeals and the effect of the High Court judgment in the personal injury case Dwyer v Calco.

As a result of the decision, multiple appellate judges are now determining issues that should be heard in most cases by a single County Court judge.

“The judges and I have pressed for amending legislation to rectify the problem,” Chief Justice Warren said.

She said internally-initiated reforms had reduced delays by introducing appeal mediations and reducing the size of many appellate panels.

A spokesperson for Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls said the government had allocated $37.5 million for the implementation of the Melbourne Legal Precinct master plan, including the $22 million spent on the Supreme Court.

“The government will continue to work with the Supreme Court as part of our consideration of the needs of court infrastructure across the state,” she said.

Mr Hulls is also “considering options to address the Dwyer v Calco issue”.

Shadow Attorney-General Robert Clark said many Victorians were being denied justice because of Mr Hulls’ “failure to provide courts with the staffing, facilities and logistical support they need”.

In October, the Chief Justice and Mr Hulls engaged in a public disagreement following the latter’s call for a body to handle judicial misconduct complaints. [On 11 November, Mr Hulls invited Victorians to have their say on potential reforms to the way less serious complaints and concerns about judicial conduct are handled. For more information, see “In the highest regard”, on page 4 of this edition of the LIJ.]

Mr Hulls described judges as public servants and that a truly independent and robust judiciary could withstand public scrutiny.

In reply, Chief Justice Warren said judges “serve the public but are not public servants [and] to suggest so displays a complete misunderstanding of the structure of the government”.

The report can be found at www.supremecourt.vic.gov.au.

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