Judicial Conduct Commissioner (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Premier, Attorney-General) (15:54): The bill I introduce today makes miscellaneous amendments to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner Act 2015. The Judicial Conduct Commissioner Act was passed by parliament on 29 October 2015 and received royal assent on 5 November 2015. Since that date, the Governor has appointed the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, the Hon. Bruce Lander QC, as the first Judicial Conduct Commissioner, with the approval of the parliamentary Statutory Officers Committee.

The amendments contained in this bill were requested by the commissioner. They operate to clarify some important aspects of the act and improve the efficiency of the judicial complaints process. The bill allows the commissioner to investigate if further information enlivens a complaint that would otherwise have been dismissed and also allows the commissioner to summarily dismiss complaints that could be dismissed under section 17. This would occur without the need to conduct a preliminary examination or to give notice of the complaint to the judicial officer concerned or to the jurisdictional head.

It is true that, from time to time, we have frivolous and vexatious claims made not just against the judiciary but against public officers at a number of levels, and in circumstances where that has occurred, particularly repeated similar claims, this would enable the commissioner to formally dismiss the complaint, if he were satisfied that it should be summarily dismissed, without the need for the preliminary examination. This government is reducing the administrative burden placed on the commissioner.

The bill provides that the identity of the complainant need not be provided to the judge concerned or to the relevant jurisdictional head, unless the complainant consents to the disclosure or the commissioner is of the opinion that the disclosure of the complainant's identity is necessary in order to ensure that a proper response to the complaint is filed. This is essential to facilitate complaints to be made to the commissioner, especially coupled with an amendment to make it clear that any acts of victimisation from a judge towards a complainant can itself be the subject of a complaint. Lawyers should not be dissuaded from making complaints due to fears of retaliation when they next appear before that judge.

The definition of 'relevant jurisdictional head', where the person, the subject of the complaint, is themselves a jurisdictional head, has been amended to refer to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, meaning that complaints about a jurisdictional head are referred to the Chief Justice. The bill also makes several minor points of clarification, including:

1. Requiring a copy of the report of the Judicial Conduct Panel to be provided to the commissioner;

2. Providing that, where the commissioner is also the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, as is currently the case, a person employed under section 12 of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Act 2012 and directed to perform duties under the Judicial Conduct Commissioner Actor a person seconded to assist the commissioner be included as a 'member of the Commissioner's staff'; and

3. Making it clear that that the commissioner has the explicit power to consider conduct that occurs prior to the commencement of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner Act.

Finally, the bill makes an amendment to address the circularity of the current section 33, which provides that a person must not, except as authorised, publish information relating to a complaint if the publication is prohibited. The section has been amended to clarify that the information cannot be published, unless authorised by the commissioner.

The provisions in this bill have the purpose of clarifying the commissioner's powers and assisting him in the discharge of his statutory duties. I thank the commissioner for bringing these matters to the government's attention and providing his explanation for the same. After consultation, I now commend the bill to members and table the explanation of clauses.

Debate adjourned on motion of Ms Cook.