A PROPOSAL has been made to set up a website allowing people to publicly critique the performance of judges.
The idea was put forward on the independent news website Crikey last week by political commentator Greg Barns, who is advocating the establishment of a site similar to one already operating in the US called the Robing Room.
The Robing Room allows people to rate US judges according to a series of criteria such as temperament; scholarship; industriousness; ability to handle complex litigation; punctuality; and even-handedness in civil and criminal litigation. The site lists the top 10 and bottom 10 judges as ranked by users of the site, and allows people to post comments on the judges.
Barns said on the website: “Judges, magistrates and other judicial officers should welcome feedback. They complain loudly and often that their job makes them remote from everyday life, and many of them have little or no idea of what those who appear before them think about their performance.”
This was a rationale he emphasised when contacted by Lawyers Weekly.
“Judges aren’t only there to uphold the law but they are also providing a service to the community. I’ve got no doubt some judges would think this was a good idea. I think it’s important that people are able to see how judges are rated.
“It’s not a popularity contest, but about their ability to deliver judgments expeditiously, their capacity to be fair to all parties, their temperament in court, and the way in which they treat litigants in person,” he said.
He said there was currently an informal process where lawyers talk to each other everyday about judges and what to do in front of a particular judge. “What I’m talking about is formalising that process so that you can have some serious peer review,” he said.
The Judicial Commission of NSW declined to comment on the proposal, and the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration’s executive director Greg Reinhardt would comment only to say:
“The only mechanism that is in place in the country at this time is the complaints mechanism at the Judicial Commission of NSW. That is the only mechanism at the present time.”
Barns hopes the proposal will generate enough interest to get it up and running.
“I’d urge people to look at the US concept because in some respects the US legal system is further advanced than ours in terms of being more transparent and I think that’s one example.
“It’s not about ‘let’s have a website for gossip on judges’. It’s actually a serious exercise to get an insight into how judges perform. Just about every other occupation gets rated in some way, why should judges be excluded,” he said.