Monday, 10 March 2008

Panel to pick judges planned

THE power to appoint judges would be partly taken away from government and shortlists for appointments would be drawn up by an independent judicial appointments commission under a state Coalition government.

The NSW Opposition has released its second major policy in two months in a discussion paper drawn up by the shadow attorney-general, Greg Smith, called Restoring Faith In Justice.

It calls for the establishment of an independent commission to provide a shortlist to the Attorney-General for judges' appointments, which it claims would prevent some of the accusations concerning political appointments and provide for a more "independent arm of government".

The model follows on from the British Government's decision to establish a Judicial Appointments Commission in 2006.

The system of appointments says the paper "needs overhauling because it is government controlled and leads to political appointments and patronage; it is opaque and impossible to determine the process of selection and appointment; that there is a perceived lack of consultation among relevant stakeholders; and that there is a perceived lack of depth in the pool from which judicial talent is drawn".

The Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, said yesterday: "If we're going to get the state out of the mess it's in, we need the best possible people from across the public sector, from judges to the more basic positions.

"Unless we start to raise the standards, the performance is not going to lift."

Mr Smith said that some of the people appointed to the bench in the past had been appointed because of their "political connections".

"They get good people in there generally but there's also a lot of room there for picking your mates," he said.

The paper said a judicial appointments commission should be established "to ensure a fairer and more transparent appointments process, while safeguarding against excessive politicisation of the courts".

It says there had been significant community concern recently over the manner in which people are appointed to the NSW judiciary.

"Accusations of 'jobs for the boys' and political favouritism, in the arena, of judicial appointments, have clouded public perceptions of the NSW judiciary."

The Opposition argues that judicial appointment is "clouded in secrecy", raising public concerns about judicial standards.

At present, the attorney-general takes appointments to cabinet with people qualified for appointment if they have been an Australian lawyer of at least seven years' standing (or five years' standing for magistrate's appointments).

The latest Coalition policy follows the Opposition announcing last month that, if elected, buses, trains and ferries would be run by a single transport authority that would tackle all public transport problems from ticketing to timetabling.

It also comes in an environment where the Coalition is being routinely attacked by the Government for having failed to come up with policy in Mr O'Farrell's first year as Opposition Leader.

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