ATTORNEY-GENERAL ATTEMPTS TO SILENCE JUDGES
16 August 2017
Attorney-General George Brandis has given unprecedented advice that, if followed, would shut down the longstanding practice of judges appearing before Parliamentary inquiries.
The advice was provided after the scheduled hearing of a Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee inquiry into family violence and the family law system, which was due to hear from chief law officers of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia, was scrapped with less than 24 hours’ notice.
Deputy Chair of the Committee Sharon Claydon slammed the Attorney-General’s recommendation, saying it represents a ‘drastic and detrimental departure from a time-honoured practice of the Parliament.’
“It’s been standard practice for Parliamentary committees to take testimony from judges about important legal matters. This testimony has long been crucial in helping committees to come to informed decisions and make effective recommendations.
“How can committees make recommendations about important legal reforms without speaking to the heads of jurisdictions that see the human face and consequences of these laws every day?”
Ms Claydon said the Attorney-General’s advice didn’t mention any Australian standing orders, cases or precedents but instead called on the words of a British aristocrat from the 1950s to justify his position.
“This Attorney-General is a laughing stock throughout the Australian legal community and this letter shows why.
“His advice directly contradicts the official House of Representatives Practice Book which refers explicitly to the voluntary appearance of judges before house committees about matters of law and policy.”
Ms Claydon said judges should be free to decide whether they appear before Parliamentary Committees.
“Judges are highly competent professionals with eminent legal minds. They are entirely capable of deciding what is and isn’t appropriate. They don’t need the Attorney-General to tell them how to do their jobs, or to protect them from themselves.
“Is the Attorney-General really concerned about what’s appropriate? Or is he more worried about what his chief legal officers might reveal about what’s happening on his watch?”