Judges and magistrates are not only the holders of an important office in our legal system, but they are also service providers. From Monday to Friday each week lawyers and increasingly, litigants in person, appear before thousands of courts and tribunals where judicial officers dispense justice.
But what’s the quality of the justice like in those courts and tribunals? Which are the most courteous and compassionate of judicial officers? Who takes too long to hand down judgments? And where do individual judges, magistrates and tribunal members stand when it comes to impartiality?
These are all reasonable questions to ask, yet try getting answers to them. You won’t. Our courts are relatively unaccountable to those who use their services. There is no league table of judges, for example. But why shouldn’t there be? After all, as a community we are quick to provide politicians with feedback on how they are performing, and public sector agencies which interact with the public are being forced to lift their game as consumers gain more knowledge about the type of service that they are entitled to expect.
It’s time to establish a ratings system for Australian courts, along the lines of the American website, The Robing Room. The Robing Room allows lawyers and litigants from across America to rate judges according to a series of criteria such as temperament; scholarship; industriousness; ability to handle complex litigation; punctuality; evenhandedness in civil and criminal litigation and so on.
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It’s a useful tool for lawyers and litigants. In Australia, if you haven’t appeared before a judge or a magistrate previously, you are forced to ring around your colleagues to find out what he or she ‘is like.’ How much easier it would be to simply log on to an Australian Robing Room and get some relatively impartial and empirical information, along side some colour about the individual, yourself.
Of course, there’s already an informal Australian Robing Room in cafes, solicitor’s offices, barristers chambers and in courtroom antechambers, as stories are swapped about judges’ eccentricities, foibles and qualities. All that information and intelligence should be brought together on one easily accessible site.
Judges, magistrates and other judicial officers should welcome feedback. They complain loudly and often that their job makes them remote from everyday life, and many of them have little or no idea of what those who appear before them think about their performance.
It’s time to establish an Australian Robing Room and what better place to do it than on this website which promises “to bring its readers the inside word on what’s really going on in politics, government, media, business, the arts, sport and other aspects of public life in Australia.”
If you want to get involved in building A Crikey version of The Robing Room then feel free to contact me through the Crikey website. Write to [email protected] with ”robing room” in the subject line.