The Andrews Labor Government will establish a new commission to investigate complaints and concerns about judicial officers under a Bill introduced into Parliament today.
Under the Judicial Commission of Victoria Bill 2015, a new independent body will have authority to hear complaints about the conduct of judicial officers and Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) members for the first time.
Any member of the public or the legal profession will be able to make a complaint to the commission, which will also be able to receive and investigate referrals from the Attorney-General.
The Judicial Commission will have powers to consider a range of complaints including excessive delays in giving judgments, courtroom demeanour and health issues affecting a judicial officer or VCAT member’s ability to perform their official duties.
The Bill will also create a process for judicial officers or VCAT members facing serious allegations to be stood down from some or all of their duties while an investigation is underway.
The commission will be able to refer the most serious complaints – those that if proven could warrant removal of the judicial officer or VCAT member – to a specially convened Investigating Panel with coercive powers.
The panel will be able to compel witnesses to attend and produce documents, and order judicial officers to undergo a medical examination. Investigating Panels will include two current or former judicial officers from any Australian jurisdiction and one member of the community.
The Bill also strengthens the general powers for heads of jurisdiction to manage their courts, including the ability to request judges to undergo breath-testing.
The Board of the Commission will comprise of the heads of jurisdiction of each Victorian court and VCAT, as well as four eminent members of the community
The Bill will not change existing provisions requiring a special majority of both Houses of Parliament to agree before a judicial officer can be removed from their position.
The commission will not be a substitute for the appeals process and will be unable to change a decision of a court or tribunal.
Quotes attributable to Attorney General Martin Pakula
“Victoria is fortunate to have a judiciary of the highest calibre, which also recognises that a modern justice system should have accessible and transparent processes for handling complaints.”
“This Bill provides a rigorous system for dealing with conduct falling outside the high standards the Victorian community expects of its judiciary.”
Reviewed 10 February 2021