JUNE McPHIE, president of the Law Society of New South Wales, has strongly disagreed with supporters of judicial appointment reform in Queensland.
“The Law Society is totally against the establishment of an official body or committee for the selection of judges,” McPhie said in a statement to Lawyers Weekly.
This came in response to the new president of the Queensland Bar Association, Martin Daubney’s comments last week that the Bar’s chief aim was to reform the judicial appointment process.
He said in The Australian that it was time to consider numerous options, with priority given to a commission of judicial review, for “the issue is now squarely in the public arena and we think it responsible to advance possible solutions”.
The president of the Queensland Law Society, Rob Davis, supported the call for a commission, claiming that a panel of legal representatives of barristers, solicitors, the chief justice, head of the Court of Appeal and the head of the District Court was essential for the nomination of suitable candidates for appointment, as reported in the Courier Mail.
Yet McPhie believed that a commission of the sort proposed in Queensland might act as a deterrent for those wishing to advance to the judiciary.
“Many eminently suitable candidates would be reluctant to go through a public process of selection,” she said.
Daubney replaced outgoing president Peter Lyons on 19 July, following his resignation after the furore caused by the 7 July appointment of his wife, Ann Lyons to the Supreme Court of Queensland.
Ann Lyons is only the third former solicitor in Queensland to be appointed to the Supreme Court who was not first a member of the Bar.
Yet a spokesperson said that the NSW Law Society has nothing against solicitors being appointed to the bench, so long as they are suitably qualified.
According to McPhie, “the fundamental criterion for selection must be merit — qualities which constitute merit include legal skills, experience and personal attributes. No other consideration should be allowed to interfere with this paramount criterion if the Australian judiciary is to continue to maintain its eminence and independence”.
Daubney, a staunch critic of Ann Lyons’ elevation to the Supreme Court, said that it was “appropriate for the Bar to still be the primary resource when seeking appointments to the bench”.
Daubney had also expressed concern over the power of the executive government to appoint candidates to the judiciary in the absence of any real accountability.
This followed a heated exchange with Queensland Attorney-General Linda Lavarch over her apparent lack of consultation with the Bar about the appointment of Ann Lyons.
Lavarch went some way to appeasing the situation with a promise to engage in a “meaningful consultation with the Bar in relation to future judicial appointments”.
The Attorney-General admitted that the Queensland Bar Association and Law Society’s “perspective on possible appointments will add to the robust nature of the process”.