Australian
Family Court judges are quietly seething over the government’s new
anti-terror legislation that will force them to preside over control
orders for minors, with many judges holding ethical reservations about
granting the government power to watch and control children for up to
12 months.

After pushing the anti-terror legislation through
parliament earlier this week, both the Prime Minister and
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock now face an apparently angry Family
Court, frustrated about not being consulted on changes to the court’s
role and uneasy about the fairness of the control order provisions.

Although
it’s often thought inappropriate for the judiciary to show public
dissent about its role, a seasoned Family Court insider has told Crikey
that now the legislation has been passed a growing number of judges are
feeling very concerned.

“A number of the judges have had
strong philosophical and ethical objections to what they have been
asked to do,” the court insider told Crikey yesterday, but admitted
that “if a judge had a strong ethical opposition to a case then there’s
not much they can do.”

The New Chief Justice of the Family
Court, Diana Bryant, is said to have met with the Attorney-General last
week to echo the concerns of many of her fellow judges, although it’s
not known whether these have been passed onto the Prime Minister.
Crikey put in a call to Ruddock’s office, but was told the
Attorney-General had no comment to make on the private conversations
between himself and any of the country’s Chief Justices.

Former
Australian President of Defence for Children International, Danny
Sandor, told Crikey that he found it completely reasonable that Family
Court judges would feel some anguish about overseeing preventative
detention orders. “It would be a complete and utter anathema for a
judge to do this,” he said.

But in a statement to Crikey
yesterday, Chief Justice Diana Bryant stressed that the court was
simply carrying out Parliament’s wishes, and that it was not unusual to
have judges disagree with various pieces or parts of any legislation.

“Individual
judges will often have differing views about particular legislation or
parts of legislation they are called on to apply, but their office
requires them to apply the law concerned, despite their personal
views,” Bryant said.