Judicial Commission needs independent, external input to stop judges bullying lawyers

Media release: NT Civil Liberties Australia 27 March 2020

Judicial Commission needs independent, external input to stop judges bullying lawyers

It’s vital that any new Judicial Commission in the Territory includes lawyers from outside the NT, Indigenous representatives and women, the NT’s Civil Liberties Australia group said today.

“The bill before the parliament for a new Judicial Commission lacks all those assurances,” CEO Bill Rowlings said.

“Without external input and supervision, the present unsatisfactory situation will go on occurring every day.

“All the problems will simply continue: repeated bullying, intimidation, extreme slowness of delivering judgements and counter-productive attitudes of judges and magistrates that barristers and solicitors face daily when representing their clients.

“There are six submissions to the parliamentary committee examining the bill. Only our proposal for non-NT lawyer members meets the basic requirement that justice must be done, and be seen to be done, independently.

“Without external, independent people, the new body would almost precisely replicate the current system, which every submission acknowledges is a failure,” Mr Rowlings said.

“We urge the committee to ask for redrafting of the bill to include independent, external expertise on the commission, and on any investigatory panel it appoints, as our submission proposes.

“As only our submission proposes, there must be Indigenous representation on the commission.

“And we endorse the argument of Caitlin Weatherby of NT Women Lawyers Association that the judicial commission must have female representation,” he said.

The NT Women Lawyers have pointed out that:

  • because of the barriers female lawyers already experience, it is the NTWLA’s view that the proposed model may limit female practitioners’ willingness to complain, and
  • the proposed model also requires judicial officers to make decisions against their peers, which is less than ideal, particularly in a small profession in a small jurisdiction.

Mr Rowlings said surveys in other states had shown that about 60% or more of lawyers were subjected to regular bullying and associated bad behaviours by judges and magistrates.

“There’s been no equivalent survey in the NT, but barristers and solicitors tell Civil Liberties Australia that the situation in the Territory is as least as bad, if not considerably worse.

“The nexus between existing people in charge of the system and poor behaviour will only be broken by bringing in external, independent review when it is needed,” he said.

“This important change deserves the parliamentary committee and the Parliament’s closest attention to start correcting how the legal and justice system in the Territory operates.

“They have to get it right, for the good of lawyers in the first instance but basically for the good of every legal client in the Territory, anyone who goes before a court or tribunal in the NT,” he said. ENDS

Released by: Bill Rowlings, CEO of Civil Liberties Australia 0408 697 971

CLA Civil Liberties Australia A04043 National: Box 3080 Weston Creek ACT 2611 Australia

Email: secretary [at] cla.asn.au Web: www.cla.asn.au

 

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