COURTS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (RESERVE JUDICIAL OFFICERS) BILL 2012

It is a pleasure to make a brief contribution on the Courts Legislation Amendment (Reserve Judicial Officers) Bill 2012. As the house is aware, reserve judges have been used in Victoria for decades as a way of managing backlogs or case overflows in our very busy judicial system. In 2005 the then Bracks government widened the pool from which those reserve judges could be taken. That change was designed to ensure the smooth and speedy application of justice by allowing for additional judicial officers — reserve judges — to be found when needed. This bill effectively diminishes the pool from which reserve judges can be taken. The policy was a clear commitment of the now Baillieu government, and as such we will not be opposing the bill.

The bill allows the Attorney-General to appoint as reserve judges to Victorian courts people who are under 75 years of age and who have previously served as a judge of the court to which they are being appointed. Once an appointment is made it will not be able to be amended or revoked except in the same manner by which other judges are removed, which is by action of the Parliament.

The main issue the opposition has with the bill, which has also been referred to by previous speakers, is that it reduces the pool of candidates from which reserve judges can be found. This is a problematic move, given the increasing strain on our judicial system under the Baillieu government and the government’s lack of resourcing of the system, and the opposition thinks this will put further pressure on the management of high caseload levels.

It is of note that the bill also allows reserve judges to be appointed to act on the Court of Appeal.

Expressly allowing reserve judges, or judges without tenure, to serve on the highest court of the state is a significant extension of their importance, power and responsibility. Notably the bill also gives the Attorney-General power to authorise reserve judges to continue paid work outside the court. We note that in 2005 the then shadow
Attorney-General was deeply concerned about the impact it might have on judicial independence to give the Attorney-General the power to authorise reserve judges to earn money elsewhere.

As has been foreshadowed, we will be seeking to deal with this issue in the upper house by way of amendment to help the government fix this issue that it was so concerned about in opposition. Under the amendments the authority to authorise such work would lie not with the Attorney-General but with the relevant head of jurisdiction, such as the Chief Justice of Victoria, the Chief Judge of the County Court or the Chief Magistrate.

While Labor is not opposing this bill, I note again that it limits the pool from which reserve judges can be drawn. We think this will put additional strain on a court system which is already under pressure.

We also note the issues regarding the approval of payments by the Attorney-General, which we have offered to help the government address. We also note that the legislation significantly expands the capacity of judges, given they are now expressly allowed to sit on the highest court in the state. Having said that, we do not oppose the bill. Those are my concluding remarks.

Hansard, 2013