THE Chief Justice of Australia’s highest court has delivered a timely speech about the challenges of court funding.
As the country’s Remuneration Tribunal considered pay for judges and other government executives, High Court Chief Justice Robert French told the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration in Melbourne that courts’ funding could be weighed up against their outputs.
“Economic criteria, including quantitative measures, have an important part to play in determining levels of funding appropriate to enable courts to carry out their functions. But it is difficult to envisage an exhaustive economic justification for any given level of funding,” Chief Justice French said.
The judge said questions around the efficiency of courts and whether it is possible to measure their outputs against resource inputs have been discussed in Australia, as well as in common law and civil law jurisdictions around the world.
But providing public moneys to the courts is founded upon value judgments about their functions in the maintenance of constitutional arrangements, as well as the rule of law and the provision of access to justice, Chief Justice French said.
“If these larger considerations are not taken seriously a reductionist approach characterised by a kind of simplistic economic rationalism may cause inappropriate funding decisions to be made or inappropriate conditions to be attached to funding,” he said.
He said any model that sees courts as competitors in the market for the provision of dispute resolution services should be given close scrutiny.
He added, however, that the community through its elected representatives has the right to demand that measures are in place to ensure public resources are properly allocated. The community should be assured that those resources are “used efficiently and that their use is capable of intelligible explanation and justification”.
Chief Justice French told the audience late last week that several key factors are relevant to public policy about the allocation of resources to the courts. These include the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, the constitutional position of the court, accountability for funding, as well as efficiency, productivity and performance.
The judge’s scrutiny of court funding comes as the Remuneration Tribunal yesterday deferred its annual salary review for judges.
High Court, Federal Court and Family Court judges, and other federal judicial officers will miss out on the proposed six per cent pay rise, following calls by Attorney-General Robert McClelland for pay restraint.