NEW FEDERAL Attorney-General Robert McClelland is on the front foot regarding the future of judicial appointments. In question time last week, McClelland responded to questions from the House of Representatives about his strategy for improving the transparency of the appointment process.
According to McClelland, the recent vacancies on the Federal Magistrates Court are an opportunity put the principle of open governance to the test.
“The Rudd Government is committed to open government, and that is why we have introduced greater transparency and broader consultation in respect of the appointment of senior public servants,” he told the parliament.
“On the weekend I had the opportunity to give a speech to the Queensland Bar Association, and I outlined similar proposals in respect of the appointment of federal magistrates and federal judges.”
Newspaper advertisements for judicial positions are indicative of the fresh approach to appointments under the new Labor Government. “We have put ads in national newspapers calling for expressions of interest by way of application or nomination,” McClelland said.
“We have sought input from a broad cross-section not only of the legal professional bodies but also of the community legal centres, the Legal Aid Commission, academia and the Australian Women Lawyers Association.”
A selection panel will be appointed by the Attorney-General, comprising the Chief Magistrate, a retired judge and a representative of the Attorney-General’s Department.
“That panel will assist in the selection of candidates according to criteria which have been published on the department’s website — criteria determined to achieve not only selection on the basis of merit but personalities who have empathy with litigants who appear before them,” McClelland said. “That panel will provide me with a short-list, and it is proposed that I would recommend a suitable candidate from that short-list for the consideration of government.”
The panel will also seek input from members of Parliament as a form of public engagement with the appointment process. “We are not advocating a United States-type veto through the Senate or otherwise, but it is an important step to assure Australians that those people who will deliberate in respect of their rights or, if it be in force, obligations against them are chosen not by a narrow select few but by an appropriately qualified panel,” McClelland said.
“It is important that Australians have confidence that all judicial appointments are entirely on the basis of merit, not on personal associations or political affiliations.”