On 13 February 2020, the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Natasha Fyles, introduced the Judicial Commission Bill 2020 (“the Bill”) into the Northern Territory’s Legislative Assembly, with the Bill being immediately referred to the Legislation Scrutiny Committee for report by 5 May 2020.
The Bill’s Compatibility Statement indicates the primary object of the Bill is to “create a formal, statutory framework for handling complaints against judicial officers and ordinary members of the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (‘NTCAT’)”.
The key functions of the Commission, as outlined in the Bill’s Explanatory Statement (“ES”), are to establish a:
The Judicial Commission would be an investigatory body with the authority to dismiss a complaint, refer it to the head of jurisdiction with recommendations for action, or establish an investigation panel to deal with the most serious complaints.
An Investigation Panel would investigate complaints that could justify removal from office or termination of appointment. The Panel may dismiss the complaint, refer it to the head of jurisdiction with recommendations for action or, if it forms the opinion that the complaint could justify consideration of removal from office or termination of appointment, report to the Administrator and the Minister.
The Bill proposes consequential amendments to:
The purpose ofis to provide a forum for reviewing a wide range of administrative decisions and for resolving certain civil disputes - such as residential tenancy matters and small claims up to an amount of $25,000. NTCAT also “exercises jurisdiction in relation to the regulation of particular professions and the protection of civil rights, with its object being to achieve outcomes that are prompt, fair and inexpensive”.
Prior to the establishment of NTCAT there was no centralised system for the review of administrative decisions, currently it has over 30 members who hear and decide cases.
As indicated in the Minister’s speech, the establishment of the Judicial Commission is “… modelled on similar statutory mechanisms in other Australian jurisdictions, in particular New South Wales …”
The Minister also said in her speech that the Bill will “establish a statutory Judicial Commission whose members comprise the three heads of jurisdiction, being the President of the Law Society and at least one, but no more than two community members who are of high standing”.
She went on to say:
“… This bill overcomes the absence of structured, transparent and accessible processes … The bill will introduce a transparent and robust framework for complaints handling and enhance public confidence in the judicial system. It strikes the appropriate balance between judicial accountability and judicial independence.”
The following NT legislation will be affected by the Bill’s consequential amendments:
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