Chief Justice of Victoria Marilyn Warren AC has warned that efforts by the Government to reduce the cost of dispute resolution are putting the independence of the judiciary at risk.
In an address to the University of Melbourne's Law School on 27 May 2010, Warren spoke at length about the critical importance of judicial independence. She said law reform agencies and governments are anxious to implement civil procedure reforms and noted the potentially detrimental impact of these changes.
Warren explained that arrangements such as over-arching obligations, pre-action protocols, liberal powers of case management invested in courts, narrowed discovery and expanded alternative dispute resolution procedures are intended by governments to reduce the cost to the state of dispute resolution.
But these reforms, according to Warren, mean the resolution of disputes between citizens are more frequently played out in a private rather than public forum and that increased pressure is placed upon the judiciary to play a managerial rather then a judicial role.
Warren warns of the dangers associated with such an approach by stating: "Immediately two phenomena arise: closed justice and the risk of tainting the impartiality of the judicial function. Judicial independence is at risk."
Discussing additional threats to judicial independence, Warren touched on the impact of the media and the pressure placed on judges by media campaigns for increased sentences.
"Further research is yet to be done, but there is a real prospect of a correlation between the increase in the sentences imposed and pressure brought to bear by sectors of the media to achieve a populist outcome of increased sentences," she said.
Warren concluded by saying: "As a matter of constitutional and legal principle [judicial independence] matters because [it] lies at the heart of our democracy."
To read more of Chief Justice Warren's speech visit: http://www.supremecourt.vic.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/justlib/supreme+court/home/library/the+victoria+law+foundation+law+week+oration+delivery+by+the+chief+justice+of+victoria