Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s criticism of Victoria’s judges and magistrates is “unfair and unwarranted” and the judiciary should not be allowed to become collateral damage in a political fight, a peak legal group says.
The Judicial Conference of Australia (JCA) rejected Mr Dutton’s claim there was a “problem” with some of the state’s judges and magistrates, describing it as “generalised sledging” that “does not add to the debate”.
“There is a problem with some of the judges and magistrates [Premier] Daniel Andrews has appointed and some of the bail decisions that have been made, been criticised even by Daniel Andrews’ own ministers,” Mr Dutton told Adelaide radio yesterday.
“It is not a problem in Adelaide, not in Brisbane, not in Sydney. It’s a problem concentrated in Victoria.”
Justice Beech-Jones said the judges and magistrates in question could not respond, and the comments undermine the capacity of the judiciary to apply the law impartially.
But today, Mr Dutton stepped up the rhetoric against the judiciary, blaming “soft sentences” on the appointment of civil libertarians as magistrates, and labelling one Supreme Court judge a “left-wing ideologue”.
“The solution, in part, is to make sure that the appointments that you’re making to the Magistrates’ Court are people who will impose sentences and will provide some deterrence to people repeatedly coming before the courts,” Mr Dutton told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
“So if you’re appointing civil libertarians to the Magistrates’ Court over a long period of time then you will get soft sentences.”
He singled out Supreme Court judge Lex Lasry for a tweet in which he poked fun at Mr Dutton’s comments that some people feel unsafe about going out for dinner in Melbourne.
Justice Lasry was appointed to the position by the Brumby Labor government in 2007.
“Mr Lasry, who is a left-wing ideologue appointed to the court, is dismissive the other day of some of the comments I made,” Mr Dutton said.
“If you’ve got that sort of attitude towards the public, these people who think they’re above the public, it’s a complete nonsense.
“I think there needs to be a reset of attitudes, separation of powers which is a very important principle within our society.”
How many judges has Martin Pakula appointed?
- There are 57 Supreme Court Judges, Associate Judges in Victoria — Martin Pakula has appointed 10
- There are 126 Magistrates in Victoria — Martin Pakula has appointed 17
- There are 68 Country Court judges in the state — Martin Pakula appointed 15
Victoria’s Attorney-General, Martin Pakula, said Mr Dutton had made claims about his appointments to the judiciary without offering any facts to back up his claims.
“He has made these claims without offering a single shred of evidence to defend them,” Mr Pakula said.
“They are completely unwarranted and untrue. No government in recent memory has done more to appoint former prosecutors to our bench than this Government.”
Mr Pakula defended the role of the independent judiciary to apply the laws put in place by Parliament.
“Mr Dutton and some of his colleagues seem more intent on spending all of their time just running a commentary on a government that happens to be of a different political persuasion to theirs and I think that is frankly quite a new development,” he said.
‘African action plan’ in works since July
“What we want is a more focused effort in relation to the African communities and particularly the Sudanese and Somali communities,” Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Andrew Crisp said.
“This is not a crisis. There is not a crisis in this state in relation to crime. The behaviour we’re seeing of a relatively small number of people of African background.”
Abeselom Nega, the chief executive of youth co-operative iEmpower and a member of Victoria’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, said the taskforce was not a silver bullet.
He said the community had been working with the State Government on an action plan since July.
“I call on the Victorian Government to respond to the African action plan as soon as possible,” Mr Nega said.
“That action plan was developed by the community well before these incidents have taken place.
“This is a document that was developed by the community, that is owned by the community. It raises quite a lot of the issues from education to employment to the justice system and law-and-order issues.”
The plan recognises that there are “significant social disadvantages” in the community, he said.
The men, described by police as of “African appearance”, threatened a Narre Warren service station attendant with a machete and large rock just before 4:00am.
“I was disappointed to hear about violence that has occurred overnight,” said Mr Nega.
“But I’m very hopeful the leadership of the community, the Government and all of our stakeholders are coming together to address youth offending,” he said.
He said it was “gut-wrenching” and disappointing that the recent violence had taken place while the community was working on its action plan.