Supreme Court (Court of Appeal) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

It is with great pleasure that I rise today to introduce the Supreme Court (Court of Appeal) Amendment Bill 2019. This bill will establish a permanent court of appeal in South Australia, as a division of the Supreme Court. The benefits that a court of appeal will deliver for South Australia is a more effective and efficient means of disposing the appellate work of the Supreme Court.

The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court includes hearing first instance civil cases and serious criminal matters, including trials for offences such as murder and treason. In its appellate jurisdiction, the Supreme Court reviews and determines errors which may have occurred in other courts of the state and interprets and expounds the law for the guidance of other courts. Under the current arrangements, the judges of the Supreme Court work on a rotational basis in the Full Court to hear civil appeals and in the Court of Criminal Appeal to hear criminal appeals. They also sit as a single judge when hearing and determining first instance civil and criminal matters.

The functions of an appellate and a trial judge are significantly different. The trial function involves hearing evidence, making findings of fact and making rulings on evidence. The appellate function involves a much greater element of theory, principle and conceptualisation of the law. It is not my intention for this bill to be seen as a reflection on the work of the current serving judges of the Supreme Court.

Pursuing this reform simply recognises that the appellate work involves functions and skills different from those performed in trial work and is therefore better performed in a separate court of permanent members than in a court of changing membership. By appointing judges to a court of appeal on a permanent and ongoing basis, the development of specialist appellate expertise will be fostered, leading to greater efficiency in our justice system and higher quality judgements.

South Australia remains one of the only jurisdictions yet to establish a dedicated court of appeal. When considering this reform, the government has looked to the advantages that have been borne out in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia following the successful establishment of courts of appeal in those jurisdictions.

In particular, in Western Australia a high-level committee was established in 2001 to consider the desirability and feasibility of establishing a court of appeal there. The Court of Appeal committee's final report concluded that the longstanding courts of appeal in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland were successful, working effectively and efficiently and were superior to a full court comprising several judges of a supreme court sitting on appeals in rotation, as is currently the case in this state.

The committee found that courts of appeal raised standards generally in the courts and the legal profession, improved the quality and consistency of appellate judgements, increased the speedy delivery of such judgements and involved shorter hearings. The committee's report also found that the principled development of the law was facilitated and that the Court of Appeal had developed a status and authority not previously enjoyed by full courts. For these reasons, the report concluded that the establishment of a court of appeal in Western Australia would advance the administration of justice in that state.

I consider these to be powerful arguments for the establishment of a court of appeal here in South Australia. This bill has broadly been modelled on the legislation establishing Western Australia's Court of Appeal and has the following major features:

1. The Court of Appeal will be established as a decision of the Supreme Court, with a separate general division for the matters that are not heard by the Court of Appeal.

2. This is consistent with the court structure in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland, whose courts of appeal are integrated with their supreme courts.

3. The Chief Justice will remain the principal judicial officer of the Supreme Court, including of the Court of Appeal.

4. The Court of Appeal will be comprised of the Chief Justice, the president and the judges of the Supreme Court who have been appointed to the Court of Appeal.

5. The president of the Court of Appeal will be responsible to the Chief Justice for the administration of the Court of Appeal.

6. The jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal will be the existing jurisdiction of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia and of the Court of Criminal Appeal.

7. To hear matters, the Court of Appeal will be constituted by at least three judicial officers.

8. The general division will be comprised of the Chief Justice and the judges of the Supreme Court who are not appointed to the Court of Appeal.

9. The jurisdiction of the general division will be the current jurisdiction of the single judges of the court. It will also include current jurisdiction of the land and valuation division of the Supreme Court, which is to be abolished and subsumed within the general division.

10. To hear matters, the general division will be constituted by a single judge.

11. The Chief Justice and president will jointly be able to authorise a judge of the Court of Appeal to temporarily sit in the general division and authorise a judge of the general division to temporarily sit in the Court of Appeal.

12. The bill also makes a number of consequential and transitional amendments to legislation to reflect the new court structure.

As Attorney-General, I am extremely proud to introduce the bill into the parliament, which represents a major advance on the administration of justice in South Australia. At the heart of this reform are the goals of efficient service of the public and principled application and development of the law. The bill, in establishing a court of appeal in South Australia, will deliver both.

At this point, the South Australian bar agrees and its members have welcomed the establishment of a court of appeal and the introduction of the bill into the parliament. They agree that there will be benefits in developing appellant expertise and have highlighted that this should lead to increased quality and efficiency in appellant decision-making. It is members of the bar who frequently appear in and have a specialist working knowledge of our higher courts. Theirs is therefore an important endorsement of what they have described as a most welcome legislative development.

One of this government's key justice priorities is to modernise our courts and to meet not only our needs but those well into the future. Attorneys-general should strive to improve the justice system and lead important reforms. I am pleased to say that the establishment of a court of appeal will improve this state's justice system and it is an important reform that will serve the people of South Australia well into the years to come. I therefore commend the bill to members for their favourable consideration. I table a copy of the explanation of clauses.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr Picton.