Changes to court system remove political interference

HISTORIC changes to the system which backs the courts will remove the risk of political interference, according to a Ballarat lawyer.

Defence lawyer Scott Belcher said he was surprised by the lack of fanfare following the announcement of the newly formed Courts Services Victoria, declaring it a hugely important reform.

The statutory body comes into effect this week to provide administrative support for Victorian courts and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. 

“The legal process must be free from any undue interference from a government department. I’m confident this new body will eliminate that risk,” Mr Belcher said. 

“It is about making sure government and the courts are kept as separate as possible. 

“Court Services Victoria, as an independent body, will provide independent support staff to magistrates and judges rather than relying on staff supplied by the Department of Justice.

“It really is a dramatic and positive reform. It is significant reform without the need for a referendum.

“I will be interested to see if New South Wales and Queensland follow Victoria’s lead, given the deep-rooted corruption in NSW and the controversial circumstances surrounding the appointment of Queensland’s Supreme Court Chief Justice.” 

Court Services Victoria was championed by Victorian Attorney General Robert Clark and legislated earlier in the year, fulfilling an election commitment. 

It brings Victoria into line with the High Court, the Federal Court and South Australia.

CSV will be presided over by the Courts Council, chaired by Chief Justice Marilyn Warren and made up of the president of VCAT, president of the Children’s Court, the state coroner, chief judge, chief magistrate and two non-judicial members. 

The change will not affect the day-to-day operation of the courts, but the new body will answer to the Victorian Parliament rather than the Justice Department and the minister.

Court Services Victoria will also allocate funding to the various courts, rather than the Justice Department.

Chief Justice Warren said independence of the judiciary was a foundation principle of constitutional democracy.

gavin.mcgrath@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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