A junior lawyer was appointed to a senior position at the Federal Court despite there being candidates better matching the position description, according to an Australian Public Service Commission investigation.
The Australian reported this week that employees at the court raised internal concern during the appointments of two unnamed junior lawyers as national registrars in 2016 and 2018.
Position descriptions for the roles stated the successful applicants would perform statutory legal functions and needed to be admitted as practitioners of the High Court or Supreme Court in a state or territory.
An Australian Public Service Commission investigation obtained by the newspaper found one of the employees “did not hold an essential qualification for the position” and reasonable efforts had not been taken to determine if they were eligible to be admitted to practice.
Acting APS assistant commissioner Kate McMullan wrote in late 2020 that given admission as a legal practitioner was listed among criteria for the role, it did “not appear to have been considered as part of the selection process” and the recruitment process had breached the Public Service Act.
“[The registrar] was selected over a field of candidates, all of whom did have this work-related quality,” she wrote.
Internal emails obtained by the newspaper show public servants at the court raised questions about the other employee being admitted to the Supreme Court only a short time before their appointment; however, a senior manager said the applicant came recommended as a “highly capable registrar”.
The APSC did not make adverse findings about the appointment of the second employee, although recommended the selection panel explicitly record “the reason for shortlisting, interviewing and selecting such a candidate”.
There is no suggestion the employees were unable to perform in their roles.
Meanwhile, The Australian on Wednesday also reported Federal Court public servants had circumvented a cap on the number of senior executive services staff by hiring them at lower levels and using special agreements to increase their pay and titles.