A LAST ditch plea by the Victorian Bar to members of the state’s upper house to reconsider passing a law that will introduce a permanent system of acting judges in Victoria failed to sway a majority of MLCs when they voted on the Bill last week.
The Bar said an institutionalised system of acting judges deciding on cases could lead to the contravention of the right to a hearing by an “independent and impartial tribunal”, and the Bill should be sent back to a parliamentary committee, which had a statutory obligation to report whether it denies “rights or freedoms”.
The Courts Legislation (Judicial Appointments and Other Amendments) Bill was passed last Thursday.
Prior to the resumption of debate in the Legislative Council on Wednesday last week, the five government members of the Parliamentary Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee voted to defeat a motion that the Committee include comments in its report on the Bill on the rights and freedoms concerns it raised.
Under the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003, the Victorian Bar Inc said the parliamentary committee is charged to report to Parliament “as to whether the Bill directly or indirectly … trespasses unduly upon rights or freedoms”.
The Bar said the upper house should adjourn debate on the Bill and send it to a parliamentary committee for further consideration.
“It is now time for the members of the Legislative Council to take a principled stand and adjourn debate, and call upon the parliamentary committee to report, as their statute requires them to do, on the rights and freedoms aspects of this Bill before the matter is put to a final vote,” said Ross Ray QC, Victorian Bar chairman, in a statement.
Several judges have spoken out against the legislation, claiming it threatens the independence of the judiciary.
On his retirement last month, Justice of Appeal John David Phillips said: “It is one thing to tolerate the occasional acting appointment … for a limited time or purpose; it is altogether different to institutionalise such temporary appointments at the discretion of the Executive”.