22/05/2001 - 22:00

Judges need defending, it seems

22/05/2001 - 22:00

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WHILE the ducks of WA enjoy a shooting ban, the people who uphold the law and order of this country, the judges, are not enjoying the open season seemingly declared against them.

Judges need defending, it seems
WHILE the ducks of WA enjoy a shooting ban, the people who uphold the law and order of this country, the judges, are not enjoying the open season seemingly declared against them.

Attracting new judges to the bench becomes extremely difficult when you explore the sacrifices they are expected to make. Among our senior barristers, there are rumoured to be a number who have turned down judicial appointments for many years because of the environment judges are expected to operate in.

WA Law Society president Ken Martin says it is no wonder it is hard to get people to do the job when they have seen television images of judges effigies being burnt outside courtrooms.

While Mr Martin expects the merits of a judgement to be debated publicly, he was very disappointed to see personal attacks against judges becoming more common-place.

“Judges are expected to live a monastic existence without commenting on anything controversial,” Mr Martin said.

“Further, society expects them to be balanced, reasonable, decisive, and intelligent and be able to write long perfect judgements, without being allocated sufficient time to write them. Most judges are in their 50s, 60s or 70s and are expected to work like a 20-year old, for 25 per cent of the salary they would be earning off the bench.”

Various cost cutting measures and court listing reorganisations have led to an increase in judges’ workload during the past decade.

Mr Martin said that, despite the increase in workload and the level of complexity of matters, judges had less allocated time in which to write judgements.

To make matters worse, comments made recently by High Court Judge Michael Kirby on school funding drew criticism from all quarters, including the Prime Minister, John Howard. With a judge being unable to become embroiled in a public slinging match, there was an expectation that Federal Attorney General Daryl Williams, QC, would step in. However, Mr Williams chose not to do so.

Traditionally it was the role of the Attorney General to speak publicly on behalf of the judiciary.

Sources from the previous state government said that government’s Attor-ney General, Peter Foss, would rarely speak to the Chief Justice, let alone speak in defence of the judiciary.

Gallop Government Attorney General Jim McGinty believes supporting the judiciary falls into three categories.

“One, I think it is incumbent upon an Attorney General to present the facts and speak in defence of judges when their actions are defensible,” Mr McGinty said.

“Two, it is the responsibility of the Attorney-General to speak on matters that concern him of a public nature, without influencing the determination of a judge. The attorney-general should not be con-strained in voicing an opinion”

“Three, when a judge is wrong he or she should expect and accept criticism from the Attorney-General and general community.”

He said he did not propose to adopt the hands off approach of previous governments and hopes to restore a cooperative relationship with the Chief Justice as so many matters require cooperation.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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