Who judges the judges? Who appoints the judges? And how do we know if a judge’s political history affects his or her judgements?

Today in Crikey, Peter Faris QC argues that Justice Maxwell, President of the Victorian Court of Appeal, should be disqualified from the case which quashed the convictions of alleged terrorist Jack Thomas and the case should be reheard because of the judge’s links to two organisations that made submissions in the case — Amnesty International Australia and The Human Rights Law Resource Centre — and his prominent campaign against the Howard Government’s anti-terror laws:

Thomas was convicted of offences against the new “anti-terror” laws. As President of Liberty Victoria, Maxwell QC conducted a very public campaign against those laws and also against Prime Minister Howard. He publicly likened the laws and the Government to Stalinist Russia – “more redolent of the KGB than of Australian civil society” and “redolent of Stalinist Russia”. Remember, these are the very laws that Maxwell P has sworn to uphold and is obliged to apply in the Thomas case.

“It is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done,” said former UK Chief Justice Lord Hewart in 1924.  At a time of global terrorism when the courts are making difficult decisions that balance individual rights and executive power, judges must be able to meet this standard. 

Surely the time has come to consider a British-style system of creating a commission responsible for arms-length judicial appointments.