Legal bodies have criticised the recent appointment of District Court judges to the South Australian Supreme Court on an auxiliary basis.
Last week the South Australian government named district court judges Barry Beazley, Wayne Chivell and Paul Slattery as Auxiliary Supreme Court justices for the next 15 months.
However, Judge Beazley refused the position, according to a report in the The Advertiser.
The temporary appointments were slammed by SA Bar Association president Andrew Harris, who warned the perceived independence of the judiciary was at stake.
While he acknowledged Auxiliary Justices could be useful to address specific cases where the existing justices of the Supreme Court were conflicted, he suggested such matters were rare and could be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
“My principal concern, however, is that the perception of the fair-minded bystander will be that the three Auxiliary Justices are on some form of probation or trial run to see whether or not they can secure a permanent appointment to the Supreme Court,” he said.
“This is the antithesis of judicial independence where judges carry out their duties without fear or favour and without regard to how the government, which appointed them, will react to their decisions.”
While he suggested the justices would carry out their duties “fearlessly and independently”, the public may not have the same confidence.
“It is an issue of principle and not of personalities,” he said.
Justice Sulan of the Supreme Court is due to retire later on this month, and Mr Harris said he “sincerely hoped” the new auxiliary appointments were not a substitute for a full-time Supreme Court seat.
“I would have thought that the government would have done better by making three additional permanent appointments of Judges to the District Court in addition to a permanent appointment to the Supreme Court,” he said.
“The backlog of cases and listing problems in the District Court is unlikely to be improved by some of the judges of that court being absent from time to time on Auxiliary Supreme Court duties.”
SA Law Society president David Caruso also criticised the move, echoing Mr Harris’s call for permanent appointments to be made instead.
“When we try to have District Court judges also serving as Supreme Court judges we're effectively asking an already overloaded system to do more, or at least the same, with less,” he said.
He praised Judge Beazley for refusing the position “for all the right reasons, namely the need for our courts to be rejuvenated with respect to judicial succession”.
South Australian attorney-general John Rau told Lawyers Weekly the appointments were made at the request of the courts and were not selected by him or his department.
“The use of auxiliary judges is a matter for the courts,” he said.
“They are necessary from time to time to hear cases that may require specific legal expertise, or in cases where local judicial officers have a conflict of interest.”
Asked about plans for permanent seats on the court, he said appointments would be “made in due course as may be required”.