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From the president: In the highest regard

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Cite as: December 2009 83(12) LIJ, p.4

Victoria’s judiciary is deserving of praise and support from the profession.

Our state Attorney-General Rob Hulls made some strong remarks recently in regard to the role of the judiciary – strong enough that significant media attention followed and Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren felt the need to respond publicly.

The comments by Mr Hulls were made in a speech he delivered at the Judicial Conference of Australia Colloquium held in Melbourne in October. His comments included: “Cementing the confidence of the public means that the law needs to come in from the cold – in some quarters, descend from its lofty view of itself as a detached and immutable system and, as I said earlier, embrace its true purpose as a service available for those who need its assistance”.

He also said: “As especially well remunerated public servants, people look to judges for exemplary behaviour – and they do so in the assumption that those who sit in judgment upon others cannot do so properly if their own conduct is tarnished”.

Mr Hulls went on to announce the release of a discussion paper which would explore new options for investigating complaints against members of the judiciary.

It should be noted that in other parts of his speech the Attorney-General talked of the importance of the independence of the judiciary and his opposition to calls for mandatory sentencing. Not surprisingly though, it was quotes such as those I have repeated above which caught the attention of the media.

Headlines including “Jolt for judges”, “Plan to get tough on judges’ behaviour” and “Frosty judges told to warm up with public” appeared in the following day’s papers.

The speech, and the resulting headlines, led to a public response from Chief Justice Warren in her address at the same event. (She had originally intended to speak on the topic of “The duty to the court” but changed her plans as a result of the Attorney’s earlier comments.)

The Chief Justice, apparently after discussions with Chief Judge Rozenes of the County Court and Chief Magistrate Ian Gray, defended the role of Victoria’s judiciary and in particular its role in encouraging, rather than resisting, reform in the handling of complaints against the judiciary.

So how well is the judiciary serving us in this state? There have of course been a few well publicised cases of apparent misdemeanours by members of the judiciary. However, as the Attorney himself mentioned, the reputation of the vast majority of our judges “should not be sullied by the clumsy misdemeanours of a few”.

The reality in my view is that the conduct of the judiciary in Victoria (and Australia for that matter) is, on the whole, extremely good. Of course there are occasional exceptions, but that is the price we pay so long as we choose to fill the role of the judiciary with human beings.

I’ve been privileged during my time on the LIV executive, and in particular during my term as president, to have contact with the heads of the Supreme, County and Magistrates’ Courts. In doing so, I have been left in no doubt as to their respective commitment to ensuring that Victorians receive the highest possible level of performance from the judiciary and others within their jurisdictions. They concede that there is always room for improvement in the courts and those who preside over them and seem to me to be very active in addressing any issues which might exist in this regard.

The LIV will play an active role in the review announced by the Attorney-General and will be closely examining the discussion paper which was released on 11 November.

The discussion paper considers three options, including retaining the current method, giving heads of court formal powers and duties to handle complaints or setting up a permanent complaints body to deal with issues of judicial conduct.

It also outlines models in interstate and overseas jurisdictions for investigating complaints or concerns about judicial conduct.

Submissions are due by 18 December, while further information and the discussion paper can be found at

It is always an honour to be president of the LIV and to have held this position in the LIV’s 150th year has been even more memorable. The LIV has a long-standing history of service to the profession and community of which all members can be proud.

Finally, as this is my last column, I would like to acknowledge the generous support I have received from the LIV membership, the Council and executive and the LIV staff, particularly our CEO Michael Brett Young. I look forward to working with incoming president Steven Stevens, a partner in the revenue law section of Freehills, and the 2010 LIV Council.


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