This story was first published on 31 July 2010 on news.com.au
- * Retired judge endorses judicial reform
- * Says there are four kinds of judges
- * Rails against judges who stay too long
SOME judges were intellectually or temperamentally unsuited to the job, according to one of Australia’s most respected legal minds.
Retired Supreme Court judge Frank Vincent said some of his former colleagues stayed too long in the job and had become “sour”.
Others, he said, “suddenly decide they’re infallible and don’t want to listen because they know it all”.
Mr Vincent said there were four kinds of judges, ranging from those who were “good-hearted but not very bright” to those “temperamentally unsuited but very smart”.
Mr Vincent, who was one of Victoria’s most experienced and respected judges, made the controversial comments while endorsing a government review of the judicial appointment process.
He supported the need for a method to identify a potential judge’s fitness for office.
“We need to have a process by which the temperament of a judge and their capacity to deal with the balance between power and responsibility can be properly assessed,” he said.
“You need people with proper legal training to handle the task, and people with the personality and the right kind of approach to the performance of the role. I regard that as more important than how smart they are.”
Attorney-General Rob Hulls yesterday released a discussion paper on plans to make judges better trained, better skilled and healthier.
New judges and magistrates, who are appointed until the age of 70, could face physical and mental health checks as part of the selection process.
Mr Vincent retired from the Court of Appeal last year after reaching the compulsory retirement age, which he described at the time as “the age of statutory senility”.
But he now says arbitrary age limits were not sensible.
“I have known several judges who have reached what might be described as their use-by date well before the arbitrary age, and others who were perfectly capable of continuing on and doing the job afterwards,” he said.
Mr Vincent said the four kinds of judges were:
– Good-hearted but not very bright individuals who were unlikely to do anything terribly wrong;
– Good-hearted people of good personality who were bright and made good judges;
– Nasty individuals who were not very bright, but who could be handled most of the time through the appeal process; and
– Those who were temperamentally unsuited but very smart – a serious problem for any legal system.
Mr Vincent was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1985 and the Court of Appeal in 2001.
He said both sides of politics had been guilty of selecting judicial officers who were unsuited to the job. “Governments make their own style of appointments,” he said.
Mr Hulls has recommended all 180 appointments of judges and magistrates since 1999.
He has been accused of favouring women, and candidates with libertarian or legal aid backgrounds.