Crikey’s recent call for a judicial appointments commission has been supported by an unexpected source – the judges themselves.

The Judicial Conference of Australia is considering a report which has recommended transparency in judicial appointments by having a truly independent commission. This would apply to all appointments from magistrates to High Court judges.

And former Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Anthony Mason, has come out in support of a commission, saying that it “would play a very large part in contributing to the appointment of independent and competent judicial officers, free from undue political associations”. Former Victorian Court of Appeal Judge, Stephen Charles, went even further, saying that there are concerns that the best candidates were not making it to the bench.

Although the Federal Government is guilty of making political appointments, the real targets here are some of the more outrageous appointments by the States. The Labor agenda has been to appoint Labor mates, civil libertarians and women (the latter under some sort of misguided affirmative action policy) rather than the best candidates.

If accepted by the JCA, one would expect that the politicians would have to fall in line. The report finds that it is a “notorious fact that judicial officers have been appointed whose character and intellectual and legal capacities have been doubted and whose appointments have been identified as instances of political patronage”.

This is pretty hot stuff. If correct (and I think it is), it means that we already have judges of doubtful character, poor intellectual capacity, poor legal ability or who owe their appointment solely to political patronage. None of this encourages the community to have much respect for judges and the law.

Peter Fray

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