A Queensland Supreme Court judge says a new approach is needed to fill court vacancies, following controversy over the state’s new chief justice.
A Queensland Supreme Court judge says the process to choose the state’s controversial new chief justice has failed.
Tim Carmody was privately sworn in as Queensland’s 18th chief justice on Tuesday.
He had never served on the Supreme Court and was promoted to the top judicial post just nine months after being made chief magistrate.
Criticism about the circumstances of his appointment continues, with Justice Philip McMurdo using a speech in Darwin to express reservations about the system of choosing judges.
“I mean no criticism here of the merit of this appointment,” Justice McMurdo said in a Wednesday night speech, titled Hot Topics, to the Supreme and Federal Court Judges’ Conference.
But he added: “In this case the process has seriously failed.”
Justice McMurdo cited circumstances where Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has been accused of breaching the trust of senior legal figures, compromising his ability to consult on the merits of Chief Justice Carmody’s appointment.
In June, Peter Davis, QC, quit as head of the Bar Association of Queensland, after alleging confidential discussions about the appointment of the next chief justice were leaked by Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie or one of his staffers.
Mr Bleijie denied that he or anyone from his office leaked details of that meeting.
“If those consulted cannot expect that the confidence will be preserved, the attorney-general cannot receive the candid advice about individuals which may have to be given,” Justice McMurdo said, while also noting Mr Bleijie had denied breaching anyone’s confidence.
Justice McMurdo also referred to a situation in March when a private conversation between the attorney-general and his wife, Court of Appeal president Margaret McMurdo, was leaked to the media.
Margaret McMurdo had given a speech criticising the Liberal National Party for having an “unconscious bias” against appointing women to the judiciary.
Mr Bleijie responded by revealing that during an earlier conversation about an upcoming Court of Appeal vacancy, she’d mentioned her husband’s name, another male contender, but did not offer the names of any women.
Justice Philip McMurdo said the it showed the process of consulting judges can “go awry” in several ways.
“One is by a breach of confidence by an attorney-general who thinks that it can be justified in order to make a political point,” he said.
The 11-year veteran of the Supreme Court recommended a system, like one operating in the UK, where an independent commission advertises judicial vacancies and shortlists potential appointments, with the government required to tell the public if it decides to choose someone from outside that list.