Judicial Conduct Commissioner (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:04):  I rise to speak on the Judicial Conduct Commissioner (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2017. This was introduced on 28 September this year by the Attorney-General, essentially outlining an expansion of the role and the complaints function of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner. In South Australia, the Hon. Bruce Lander QC is the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, in addition to his role as the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption. The principal act was assented to in November 2015 and deals with complaints about the conduct of serving judicial officers.

The first annual report of the commissioner was required by 30 September 2017 and was tabled on 17 October this year. Fortunately, because there has not been the advancement of this bill, perhaps because the government had priority in relation to other bills, I have had an opportunity to read the annual report tabled by Mr Lander. I noticed that in June this year the Premier issued a new edict as to how annual reports are to be provided to the parliament and in what format. They now have to follow some standard precedent.

Although I could not identify in Mr Lander's report as Judicial Conduct Commissioner an indication that he was cognisant of that directive and was complying with it, because there is no apparent reference to it, I am pleased to say that he has provided a comprehensive report to the parliament on the obligations of his office, how he has conducted that office in the period since his appointment, and he has identified initiatives and legislative changes that he recommends. Obviously, it has a small budget and he has provided the annual financial statements, as we would expect to receive.

There are some graphic designs throughout it, which makes me wonder whether he has read the missive of austerity that has come from the Premier's office as to what is to be in and out of annual reports. I make the point that on 22 June this year the Treasurer tabled his report to the parliament, namely, the budget in South Australia in its multiple volumes. It is even thicker and longer than previous volumes that have been provided, and in that document it has for almost every agency that he has reported on, as to their prospective budget, a list of achievements.

Perhaps the Attorney-General could bring to the attention of the Treasurer that one of the missives that has been issued in this directive from the Premier is that in fact they are to avoid the listing of achievements in the preceding year and that the Treasurer perhaps should actually take some notice of that . We might get a better summary that is certainly more compliant with the directive that has come from the Premier.

Of course, he has been Treasurer for only a relatively short time, but I can remember that the member for Playford, when he was Treasurer, had lots of glossy photographs of happy families and how everyone was going to be so much better off under his budgets. It is quite clear from the edict of the Premier that you are not to have unnecessary information and you are certainly not to have lists of achievements. What is more, you are not supposed to have graphic design, so perhaps somebody should let Mr Lander know that in future he is obliged to comply with that directive, as appalling as I think it is, to make sure that he does not find himself in breach of the Premier's edict.

In any event, the government suggests that this bill incorporating the amendments was requested by the commissioner and the Crown Solicitor's Office. Incidentally, I did not notice in his annual report the call for these amendments. I might have missed it, but there was only one piece of legislative reform that I found to indicate that the JCC Act was amended three days after it came into operation to allow complaints about jurisdictional heads to be referred to the Chief Justice, and that was an anomaly we sorted out. That was actually something that had been identified and properly attended to, but I cannot see anything in his report that requests this. Essentially, the amendments:

clarify the acts of victimisation by the judicial officer;

investigate a complaint that would have otherwise been dismissed if further or new evidence was provided;

dismiss an application without a requirement for a preliminary examination nor any notice to the judicial officer concerned being given;

details of the complainant do not need to be provided to the judicial officer concerned unless consent is given, or if the commissioner thinks it fit to do so for the complaint to be dealt with;

require a copy of the report from the judicial conduct panel to be provided to the commissioner;

allow staff from ICAC (the office also held by Mr Lander QC) to be utilised by the Judicial Conduct Commissioner; and

clarify that no information can be published relating to a complaint unless authorised by the commissioner.

In respect of the utilisation of staff, as I understand it that is to ensure that there is some utilisation of the administrative staff. We are not talking about the investigation officers who obviously operate and have an ICAC role.

The original Judicial Conduct Commissioner Act 2015 was modelled on New Zealand law and, although rarely used in New Zealand, it also provides an annual report with statistical data. As members would know, essentially the commissioner has taken over the role previously handled by the Chief Justice and/or the Attorney-General and/or both houses of parliament (although thankfully that has been rarely used) in extreme cases where a judge may be dismissed.

We are advised by the government that the confidentiality of the name of complainants is largely to protect legal practitioners who might otherwise be concerned about their treatment by a judge in a jurisdiction in which they practise, the judge being of course one who has been the subject of a complaint by the legal practitioner. In those circumstances, we can see that that may intimidate them into silence perhaps and not make a complaint, and that would be unfortunate.

In all the circumstances, the opposition has considered the amendments. They are not incorporated, I note, in New Zealand law. This has been operating there a bit longer and does not seem to prevent them from being able to carry out their job. Perhaps they have more fearless practitioners who do not need to have this protection, or perhaps the commissioner over there has not encountered any retaliation actioned by an aggrieved judge who may have had a complaint made against them. Nevertheless, on the face of it the amendments seem to be reasonable and so the opposition will be supporting the bill.