Academy for court staff launched for smarter judicial administration

By David Donaldson

October 16, 2015

Kathy Laster
Kathy Laster

A new educational facility which will work with courts and tribunals across the country to improve the way they are administered and managed was launched yesterday by Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria Marilyn Warren.

The Victoria University Sir Zelman Cowen Centre Courts and Tribunals Academy will be the only one of its kind in Australia, providing a means for court staff to develop their management skills in a range of areas.

The academy will augment the work already being done by courts and tribunals in this area, says academy director Professor Kathy Laster.

“Our aim is to also assist in the development and implementation of world’s best management practices within Australian courts and tribunals across all areas of non-judicial work including governance, strategy, people management, IT, finance and risk management,” says Laster.

Laster says the launch of the Academy came at a crucial time for courts and tribunals in Australia.

“The launch of the Academy comes as courts and tribunals face increasing workloads and mounting pressure to increase output and efficiency but without extra funding from government to achieve these objectives. Improved management practices will help deal with these challenges.”

The academy will focus on research, education and training for court personnel other than judges. Members of the judiciary already receive support and service in these areas from the Judicial College of Victoria and the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration.

Technology is a particularly significant challenge for courts and tribunals at a time of increased demand, increased volumes of work and particularly in regards to mega-litigation. The issue of technological illiteracy in the judiciary has arisen recently with the revelation that trade union royal commissioner Dyson Heydon does not use email — or even own a computer — apparently a relatively common phenomenon in the top rungs of the system.

The body will conduct specialist research, act as consultants and provide tailored educational services, training and other support to courts and tribunals as they reshape their leadership, management practice and governance. One research project already underway is focused on the management of self-represented litigants in the Magistrates’ Court.

The creation of the academy comes as formal relations between courts and the Victorian government continue to shift.

A new statutory body, Court Services Victoria, was created in July 2014 in response to mounting concerns that government was encroaching on the independence and operations of the courts, threatening the separation of powers and judicial independence.

Nicola Roxon
Nicola Roxon

The aim of Court Services Victoria is to facilitate the administrative services and facilities necessary to support the performance of the judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative functions of the Victorian Courts and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and to enable the Judicial College of Victoria to perform its functions.

Prior to the launch of the academy, the Governor-General delivered a lecture on the topic Celebrating Diversity, Building Cohesion and Promoting Inclusion. The lecture is the last in the 2015 Sir Zelman Cowen Centre governors-general lecture series, honouring past and current Australian governors-general.

The host for the lecture series, adjunct professor and chair of the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre Nicola Roxon, said Governor-General Peter Cosgrove has displayed exceptional and inspirational leadership at every stage of his career.

“The Governor-General continues to display this leadership by encouraging us all to celebrate diversity, build cohesion and promote inclusion, an approach we strongly support,” she said.

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