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Broad investigative powers needed for Federal Judicial Commission, says Governance Institute

In its submission to the federal government, the Governance Institute of Australia has recommended that “no court be above the scrutiny” of the proposed commission and that there be an ability to investigate those in the highest echelons of the judiciary. 

user iconJess Feyder 23 February 2023 Big Law
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The Governance Institute has submitted recommendations to the federal government, urging them to establish as few restrictions as possible in the creation of the Federal Judicial Commission, to ensure High Court and Federal Court judges are held accountable for bad behaviour.

The Governance Institute’s submission recommends that the commission should hold unhindered investigative powers and scope to carry out inquiries in relation to conduct that occurs during the term of judicial office and that complainants should be able to remain anonymous where appropriate.

The Governance Institute stated that such reforms are necessary to ensure that trust and integrity in the judicial system are maintained.


Last year’s Ethical Index report, produced by the Governance Institute, measured public perceptions of ethical behaviour. It found that the perception of ethical behaviour in the judiciary is in decline

“Our judicial system is only strong when it has the complete trust of the public,” the Governance Institute said in a statement.

“This increases the need for an oversight body to monitor people in the highest levels of Australia’s judicial system.”

“Our members support a Federal Judicial Commission as the mechanism for raising allegations of poor conduct and/or bias of federal judicial officers,” the Governance Institute said in their submission. “They believe the design of the commission should have the core judicial values front of mind, namely impartiality, transparency, equality, integrity, fairness and accountability.”

Megan Motto, chief executive at Governance Institute, noted that there is a strong need for the establishment of an independent investigative body at the federal level. 

“It’s necessary that the commission can receive complaints and investigate a justice of the High Court or any federal judge, because no court should be above scrutiny,” Ms Motto said. 

“The lack of an independent body to oversee and, if necessary, investigate the conduct of federal judicial officers is not consistent with the public’s perception of the need for judicial officers to have high ethical standards.”

The Governance Institute clarified that the implementation of the commission should be protective in its nature rather than disciplinary and should seek to preserve and support the institutional integrity of the federal courts rather than act as a proactive enforcement body. 

The Governance Institute has also called for an education function within the commission that provides expertise and support to existing judicial education bodies, in order to ensure judges are aware of their obligations and responsibilities.

“By instilling the proposed good governance frameworks, the commission would foster greater transparency and accountability and give agency to parties seeking justice at the federal level,” the Governance Institute said in a statement. 

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