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Courting innovation


Cite as: December 2012 86 (12) LIJ, p.20

For 10 years Chief Judge Michael Rozenes has been at the forefront of change at the County Court.

November 25 marked the 10th anniversary of the appointment of Michael Rozenes as Chief Judge of the County Court and the milestone has been hailed by fellow judges as a decade of innovation.

“The Chief is always pursuing innovation, he is always excited about some new idea or project. With that enthusiasm, he brings people along with him . . . he is open to any good idea, everything is capable of being revisited and he is so willing to embrace change,” commented a fellow judge in the County Court.

It was this willingness to change that led the Chief Judge to pose a question to a special gathering of judges and staff of the County Court in December 2010: “Who wants to be part of an excellent court?”

The unanimous response in the affirmative led the County Court to successfully seek membership of the International Consortium for Court Excellence in 2011. Last year, the County Court became the first in Australia to adopt and implement the International Framework for Court Excellence (IFCE).

Excellence in the law has been a constant for Chief Judge Rozenes throughout his career. In 2002, aged 56, Chief Judge Rozenes succeeded Chief Judge Glenn Waldron who had been in the position since 1982. He is in charge of the second largest court in Victoria with a budget of $45 million and 212 staff.

He signed the Bar Roll in 1972. In 1986 he took silk and in 1992 was appointed Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. During this time he oversaw the office’s prosecution of Holocaust war criminals – the most personal case he has been involved in. Few of his parents’ extended family in Poland, where he was born, survived the Holocaust.

“In one of the trials we had to prove the existence of the Holocaust, because that was denied, and we went out and interviewed 100 Holocaust survivors because that is what was required,” he said.

“I recognised some of the names and that got pretty close to the bone.”

In 1997 he returned to the Bar.

Chief Judge Rozenes said he accepted his current role in the hope of making a valuable contribution to the community. When he took over the Court a key objective was to introduce a system of specialist, instead of generalist, judges. When asked to identify the most significant changes introduced under his stewardship, many judges readily identify the highly specialised nature of the contemporary County Court. “The Chief Judge has taken the view that judges should do what they can, what they know and what they are good at. I wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t for him,” remarked one judge.

Of the 66 judges currently sitting on the County Court, 34 specialise in crime, 12 civil and the remainder general.

For the Chief Judge it is all about the link between work satisfaction and productivity.

This view is echoed by colleagues.

“He has this ability to lighten the mood, to bring a touch of humour when it is needed. He takes the job extremely seriously, always striving to set a good example but he doesn’t take himself too seriously and he brings his infectious personality into the role of Chief Judge . . . I think this has served him well over the years. But it must be tough, he can’t possibly, always, genuinely be as happy as he seems but I think he maintains that impression for the rest of us. It’s part psychology, he knows how to bring out the best in people,” a fellow judge said.

As well as bringing out the best in people, the Chief Judge has been responsible for changes including the establishment of the Koori Court as a pilot program in 2008.

Pre-trial management has also been a special interest for the Chief Judge. Before his appointment to the County Court, many cases were adjourned at the door of court because they were not ready to proceed. That is a rarity these days. The Chief Judge said: “We still have late pleas, which is unfortunate. That’s why I agitated for the sentence indication reforms and amendments to the Sentencing Act 1991 which provided for discount of sentences when early pleas are entered. These measures were all designed to hunt early pleas,” he said.

Access to judicial continuing professional development and judicial education has also been a priority for this Chief Judge. Shortly after he was appointed, he reviewed the bench books and manuals then available to the judges of the County Court. He was instrumental in the push towards the creation of a computerised sentencing manual and database for judges complete with sentencing statistics, recent judgments, case summaries, sentencing principles and details of sentencing practice. Chief Judge Rozenes continues to actively encourage judges to take the time to attend professional development programs.

He is keen on technological innovation and describes himself as a “tech head”. Key projects he is working on include what he calls “the electrification of the Latrobe Valley” – a project he initiated, piloted successfully and will now roll out to the Latrobe Valley satellite courts in Bairnsdale and Sale early next year.

“Imanage is a sophisticated document management system which allows the list judge in Melbourne complete and immediate access to all documents on the Court file. It is the first step towards a paperless court,” he said.

Another project – the new 24-hour initial directions hearing pilot – will start next year. Chief Judge Rozenes is confident it will eradicate an unnecessary 10-12 week delay between committal for trial and the initial directions hearing in the County Court. “If we can avoid the situation of the accused having to stand in two queues – one in the Magistrates’ Court and one in the County Court – we will have achieved something worthwhile,” he said.

Most judges agree he has overseen a successful modernisation of the County Court. A senior colleague reflected “before he was appointed, many of us [judges] didn’t even turn on a computer. The Chief’s enthusiasm for technology and a significant number of new appointments changed all that. I guess it was fortuitous, or fitting, that Michael was appointed as we moved into this new modern facility. A modern Chief Judge for a modern court facility”.

Career at a glance

Michael Rozenes AO QC

1946 Born Sosnowiec, Poland

1949 Migrated with family to Melbourne. Educated North Caulfield and Brighton Grammar School

1969 Graduated Monash University with a Bachelor of Jurisprudence and Bachelor of Laws

1972 -76 Joined Bar and had a general criminal and common law practice

1977-91 Practised exclusively in the criminal jurisdiction with a specialisation in complex taxation, corporate and appellant criminal cases

1986 Took silk

1992 Appointed Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions

1997 Returned to the Bar

1997 Appointed Criminal Bar Association Chair

2002 Named Chief Judge of the County Court of Victoria

2010 Awarded Officer of the Order of Australia


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