Government proposes federal judicial commission

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday February 12, 2021

Christian Porter
Industry, science and technology minister Christian Porter. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The government is looking to establish a new agency that would have the power to investigate misconduct allegations against federal judges.

The Australian on Friday reported that attorney-general Christian Porter had sought legal advice on plans for the entity, which would investigate allegations of corruption and misconduct, including sexual harassment.

However, Porter said, the establishment of a judicial commission was his “second order of business” behind setting up the proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission, which will not be able to investigate judicial officers.

He told The Australian that an entity similar to the NSW Judicial Commission would be “constitutionally sustainable”.

“I think the NSW Judicial Commission is a relatively sound model and a body that’s operated in practice in a way that appears efficient and sensible,” he said.

The NSW Judicial Commission has the power to investigate complaints about the ability or behaviour of a judicial officer, including those relating to bias, incompetence, or ‘inappropriate’ comments. The commission cannot, however, investigate allegations of criminal or corrupt conduct, which is handled by the police or the state Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Read more: Explainer: what is the proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission and how would it work?

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus has backed the establishment of a judicial oversight body.

“I’ve said ever since we had the findings against former High Court Judge Dyson Heydon and the flood of disclosures of abuse and harassment that accompanied that, that we need to have a formal complaints body to deal with misconduct claims against sitting judges,” he told ABC radio on Friday.

“The current processes for dealing with complaints about federal judges are, well, cumbersome is the right term, because the only option is moving in both Houses of Parliament to remove the judge from office.”

Dreyfus also agreed that the NSW example, as well as the Victorian Judicial Commission were suitable models. However, he questioned the decision to wait until after the Commonwealth Integrity Commission legislation has gone ahead.

“I’m just making the point that we’ve seen many announcements from Mr Morrison, many announcements from Mr Porter, and it’s very rare for this government to actually follow through on their announcements,” he said.

“I seriously doubt that the attorney-general will do anything at all about a Judicial Commission, I would welcome it if he did.”

Read more: Commonwealth Integrity Commission draft Bill released


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