They are independent, impartial and committed to upholding the rule of law.
Traditionally they were beyond reproach but times have changed and, today, members of the judiciary in Australia are subjected to increasing scrutiny.
Contemporary values demand diversity, transparency, accountability and efficiency, which can mean the public expect Judges to act in ways that are outside the scope of their independent judicial role.
Their work is subject to intense public discussion and often harsh criticism.
Throughout all this, members of the judiciary tend to maintain a dignified silence.
New research seeks to lift this veil of silence.
UTS Law Associate Dean (Research), Professor Brian Opeskin has co-authored this research and says there’s been an important omission in discussions about judicial reform:
Academic and regulatory debates in Australia over judicial reform are presently insufficiently tested against the judges’ own experience and perspectives. Understanding how judicial officers experience challenges in their role can assist in crafting appropriate reform as well as indicating where further research and regulatory efforts are needed.
The research analyses survey responses from more than 140 Judges and Magistrates across federal, state and territory jurisdictions.
Issues canvassed include workloads, resources and expectations, productivity measurements, gender diversity and judicial appointments and complaints processes.
More than half those surveyed expressed concern about how judges are appointed and supported calls for an independent Judicial Appointments Commission.
In a few areas, the empirical research revealed deep divisions within the judiciary, but in others there was a high degree of consensus. In particular, many judicial officers nominated judicial education, workload, and staffing and support services as major challenges in their jurisdictions.
Professor Opeskin says lack of support was a common theme:
Funding cuts and productivity expectations - concerns about work load and crude measurements of productivity as well as sustained criticism in traditional media and online all take their toll on judges. There’s a sense that the mechanisms to support Judges who are threatened, trolled or the subject of sustained attack are ineffective.
The research indicates the need for greater education and ethical support as well as further research on the professional needs of those we depend upon to dispense justice.