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Lawyers defend judicial complaints methods

Lawyers defend judicial complaints methods

A peak body representing Victorian lawyers has steadfastly defended the state's courts and their methods for handling complaints against judges as a lawyer takes a public swipe at the methods.

A peak body representing Victorian lawyers has steadfastly defended the state’s courts and their methods for handling complaints against judges as a lawyer takes a public swipe at the methods. 

A lawyer who the Director of Public Prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke QC, has denied having had a sexual relationship with has turned on the heads of two senior Victorian courts over their complaints system for judges. 

Diana Karamicov, has written an article for the Journal of Judicial Administration in which she suggests the public’s perception of Chief Judge Michael Rozenes’ complaints procedures “may be viewed as the offering of an excuse to protect mates”, The Age newspaper reports. 

But the Law Institute of Victoria, with the Victorian Bar, have rallied together in a bid to dismiss the claims, saying the complaints handling system has full support of the state’s lawyers. 

“We have confidence in the courts and we do not believe there are problems with the judiciary that are not being dealt with,” said LIV president Steven Stevens.

But as they supported the system, the legal professional bodies kept one eye on their own agendas, noting they support an anticipated Judicial Commission. The two bodies have long called for a Commission, which they said should overhaul the way judicial complaints are handled. 

The LIV urged the realisation of a Commission that would independently deal with complaints. 

The LIV cautiously backed an inquiry into complaints about judges and magistrates following concerns about a magistrate's speeding irregularities in July 2009. LIV then president Danny Barlow said at the time that calls for a commission to examine complaints would be worth investigating. 

"It is important to ensure that judges and magistrates are subject to the same type of complaint mechanisms as others," Barlow said. 

“The public must have confidence that the judiciary are also following the rules.”

Barlow said courts should handle complaints according to generally accepted standards in the community.

“We need a modern system of inquiry, not the outdated tell-a-supervisor model.

“The second issue is that only Parliament can dismiss a magistrate.”

As the public eye now turns to Karamicov’s comments, the LIV has taken the opportunity to raise the subject of a Commission again. 

With a 10-member board, made up of court heads and community members, the Commission would investigate and hear complaints and concerns about judicial officers.

“The courts, the Victorian Bar, the LIV and the government have been working on a new model for independently dealing with complaints about the judiciary for some time. The Judicial Commission Bill put before Parliament has stalled and we urge the new State Government to pass the Bill in the next session,” says the LIV’s Stevens.

Vice-Chairman of the Victorian Bar, Mark Moshinsky, S.C. backed his colleague: “The Victorian Bar supports the proposed Judicial Commission and looks forward to it being finalised through the legislative process.

“The Victorian judiciary has actively promoted the reform and it has been developed in full consultation with the profession, including the Bar. The result is a process which deals with complaints with the seriousness and fairness they deserve and meets  community expectations about how complaints against judicial officers should be dealt with,”  Moshinsky said.

“We believe the proposed new complaints body, which was initiated by the judiciary itself and has been publicly supported by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Marilyn Warren, will be effective in dealing with any future issues that arise,” said Stevens.

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