The High Court shares its thoughts on the ACT’s courts.

johnboy 10 August 2009 15

[First filed: August 07, 2009 @ 10:27]

    The presentation and adjudication of the case in the courts below do cause it to merit a place in the precedent books. The reasons for placing it there turn on the numerous examples it affords of how litigation should not be conducted or dealt with. The proceedings reveal a strange alliance. A party which has a duty to assist the court in achieving certain objectives fails to do so. A court which has a duty to achieve those objectives does not achieve them. The torpid languor of one hand washes the drowsy procrastination of the other. Are these phenomena indications of something chronic in the modern state of litigation? Or are they merely acute and atypical breakdowns in an otherwise functional system? Are they signs of a trend, or do they reveal only an anomaly? One hopes for one set of answers. One fears that, in reality, there must be another.

Such is the judgment of all seven Judges of the High Court of Australia on the court system in the ACT.

The Canberra Times has the background. But we should note that the above paragraph was not some mid-judgment aside.

It is the conclusion.

So what should be done?

UPDATED: Vicki Dunne is blaming Simon Corbell for the problems, but is strangely silent on what can be done to improve matters.

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15 Responses to The High Court shares its thoughts on the ACT’s courts.
baldilocks baldilocks 8:26 am 11 Aug 09

Further to Vicki Dunne press release, the national average for judges is 1.2 judges per 100,000 of population. ACT has 1.8 judges per 100,000 of population, PLUS makes frequent use of visiting judges from the Federal Court to sit in the SC. I haven’t seen the High Court dumping on the inefficiencies of other jurisdictions, when those jurisdictions have relatively fewer judges.

I suggest that this says a lot about the efficiency of ACT courts. Perhaps this should be addressed before racing off and getting another judge, and then another, and then another…….. Get the basic structure, administration and processes right first, before spending $500k per year

vg vg 11:08 pm 10 Aug 09

Now their peers/superiors are in on the act does this mean something will finally be done?

SpellingAndGrammar SpellingAndGrammar 8:46 pm 10 Aug 09

Heavs said :

…there is clearly a need for a fifth judge to be appointed. There are only a certain amount of hours in a day that court can sit. The docket is consistently full with a visiting judge regularly required to attend to assist with the caseload…


This really is a case for additional resources and at the same time, they should get some eminent bod to go in and have a look at what the hell is going on to hold up cases like this – absolutely ridiculous, but certainly a common problem.

rjobbo rjobbo 6:36 pm 10 Aug 09

The passage quoted above is not actually the judgment of all seven Justices of the High Court- it is a passage from Justice Dyson Heydon. All Justices had the same finding, but only Heydon J made that particular comment.

The District Court in NSW is pretty bad as far as case management goes.

Serenace1 Serenace1 4:49 am 09 Aug 09

All courts have their faults. Eg, the length of time to be heard in the high court?

junkett junkett 8:45 pm 08 Aug 09

Ahh, maybe it is a good start to see the big court comment on litigious issues, but are they allowed pull on the ACT magi’s and supreme courts about their woeful human rights abuses? Surely the repeated tickling of petty rapists, robbers and various other baddies with a wet noodle must be held to account?

Poor old M. Dougan seems to be the only beak with …errm… balls enough to give the scum a hard time. Sadly every crook in this town knows you only need whinge to the supreme court to get a reduced sentence, costs back, and apology from the plods for having the audacity to lock you up in the first place!

Skidbladnir Skidbladnir 4:45 pm 07 Aug 09

They can willingly cut Stanhope loose and distribute his votes amongst party preferences, or hang onto Stanhope while he drags them towards the abyss as past decisions come back to haunt.
He’s rapidly approaching his use-by date.

baldilocks baldilocks 4:05 pm 07 Aug 09

Post # 7 – “If I were a gambling man, I’d be expecting a Cabinet reshuffle soon.”

Problem is, the gene pool is already at the shallow end for ACT pollies. If you put them all together – Labor Libs & Greens you would still be struggling to get a decent Cabinet.

But this isn’t addressing the problems in the ACT Supreme Court. His Chiefliness appointed Higgins as CJ. Can you really see uncle John admitting that he may have, just ever so slightly, taking all things into consideration, ever so slightly, maybe stuffed up?

Skidbladnir Skidbladnir 3:56 pm 07 Aug 09

If I were a gambling man, I’d be expecting a Cabinet reshuffle soon.

baldilocks baldilocks 3:39 pm 07 Aug 09

Bit surprised that there hasn’t been more comment on this from RA regulars so far. Or is everyone so aware of the problems in the ACT Supreme Court so that this just comes as bit of a yawn?

Having read the judgement now, in full, and given the usual very moderate and reasonable language which emanates from bodies such as the High Court, the judgement now handed down, and the criticism made of the ACT Supreme Court, are a shocker.

But is anyone in the ACT Supreme Court liable to be held accountable for these matters, and the other matters which come out, regular as clockwork. Dont hold your breath folks.

We will get the predictable meaningless words from Corbell, no comment from Higgins, and the ACT legal fraternity will close ranks to protect their own patch of dirt.

It will all be explained away as – we really need another judge to take up some of the workload. But this is not addressing the more fundamental problems in the court (forum shopping – moving cases from Magistrates to Supreme Court to get more lenient sentences, etc etc).

Seriously – how many people out there in the real world (i.e. non lawyers) have much respect and confidence with what goes on the ACT Supreme Court?

One of the more interesting comments today in the CT came from Stuart Pilkington – President of the ACT Bar Association. His comment ……. “Mr Pilkington said a protocol was in place for lawyers to approach the Chief Justice over unreasonable delays, but many were reticent to use it for fear of prejudicing future appearances before the bench”.

Is Mr Pilkington saying:
a)There is a fear within the ACT legal community that Higgins will get back at a barrister in future cases if they dare to criticize his conduct of matters or the delays in his court, OR
b) ACT Barristers dont have the professional courage to stand up in their own (current) clients interests to object to Higgins conduct of matters or the delays in his court, OR
c) all of the above.
From the horses mouth – Mr Pilkington is in a position to know what is really going on before the courts. Perhaps Mr Pilkington may like to clarify the point he is trying to make.

A properly functioning judiciary and court system, and which people have confidence in and respect,is a fundamental aspect of our society. Do we have this in the ACT? The High Court – the highest court in Australia doesn’t appear to think so.

Skidbladnir Skidbladnir 11:37 am 07 Aug 09

Scathing indictments of the ACT Courts aside, not really having followed the legal battle, can someone explain in Basic Layman what the timeline of events was, what this judgement means?

Also, how do our judges get appointed?
It involves some kind of skill tester crane\claw vending machine in the Attorney General’s office and a redeemable coupon, right?

Heavs Heavs 11:15 am 07 Aug 09

That’s a scathing judgment.

However, as popular as it will make me, there is clearly a need for a fifth judge to be appointed. There are only a certain amount of hours in a day that court can sit. The docket is consistently full with a visiting judge regularly required to attend to assist with the caseload. Ideally there would be time out of court for these judgments to be written but with the amount of sitting hours required to plough through the work the time to write considered judgments is just not there. Hence the slippage in delivering judgments such as this.

Courts aren’t sexy funding areas though. It’s not like you can point to a shiny new green bus lane and say ‘this is what we built’. But as the third pillar of our democracy they should be funded to the extent they can do their business without needing to go cap in hand every budget asking for an extra staff member.

DarkLadyWolfMother DarkLadyWolfMother 11:13 am 07 Aug 09

Send the local judges in for re-education…

johnboy johnboy 10:57 am 07 Aug 09

Not their peers.

Their superiors.

I wonder if there isn’t a hint of a suspicion in there that our courts were batting for the homes side?

taco taco 10:51 am 07 Aug 09

Their peers think they are incompetent too? what can be done?

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