Complaints about ACT judges or magistrates

Anyone can make a complaint to the ACT Judicial Council (the Council) about the behaviour, or physical or mental capacity of a judge of the Supreme Court of the ACT or a magistrate of the ACT Magistrates Court. The Council can also receive and examine complaints referred to it by the ACT Attorney‑General.

The Council was established on 1 February 2017. The role of the Council is set out in the Judicial Commissions Act 1994. The Council is made up of the ACT Chief Justice, the ACT Chief Magistrate, an appointed legal practitioner and an appointed member of the community.

The Council is supported by a Principal Officer and their staff who are the point of contact for people making a complaint. They facilitate communication between a complainant and the Council and also assist the Council to assess complaints and to conduct examinations.

Complaints that the ACT Judicial Council can consider

The Judicial Council can consider complaints about the behaviour or capacity of a judge of the ACT Supreme Court or a magistrate of the ACT Magistrates Court.

This means the Council can consider complaints about a judicial officer’s conduct in court, timeliness in providing judgments, and physical and mental health issues affecting a judicial officer’s ability to perform their duties.

Common types of complaints include complaints about impartiality, giving a fair hearing, discourtesy and the appropriateness of comments. The Council also receives complaints about decisions made by judicial officers.

Examples of these types of complaints and how the Council may consider these are described below.

Complaints about impartiality

People may wish to complain to the Council about a judicial officer not being impartial when hearing their matter. This can include complaints that a judicial officer has a conflict of interest or that the judicial officer had already made up their mind about a matter before hearing all of what a person had to say.

When considering complaints of this type, the Council will generally obtain the transcript and audio recording of the proceedings and any other information that will help inform what happened. They will carefully consider the complaint and give the judicial officer a chance to tell their side of the story.

The Council will consider any specific comments made and whether the judicial officer’s mind appeared open to persuasion.

The Council will decide if the complaint appears to be substantiated. Based on this, the Council may decide to:

  • dismiss the complaint, if appropriate - for example, if the matter would be better resolved through a formal appeal process, the matter complained about happened too long ago for the Council to find out what occurred or the Council considers the complaint has no merit
  • refer the complaint to the relevant head of the relevant jurisdiction to deal with, with or without recommendations
  • proceed to a full examination of the complaint. This is a formal process that may involve a private or public hearing, and the judicial officer and witnesses may be asked questions and to provide evidence. The Council will produce a report of its examination.

Following an examination, if the complaint is substantiated, the Council must consider whether the conduct is serious enough to warrant considering the removal of the judicial officer. If so, the Council may recommend that a Judicial Commission be established to examine the complaint further.

The Executive may then appoint a Judicial Commission, of three current or retired judicial officers, to examine the matter further and decide whether to recommend removal of the judicial officer, which will be considered and decided by the ACT Legislative Assembly.

Complaints about unfair hearings

Another type of complaint is that a hearing was unfair. This can include complaints about a judicial officer not allowing one side to make their arguments or refusing to read documents submitted.

For these types of complaints, the Council will generally consider the relevant records, including the transcript of proceedings and the audio of the matter.

The Council might consider other factors, for example whether:

  • a due date to provide certain documents to the court was missed by the complainant
  • the documents or information provided relate to a separate legal matter
  • the action desired by the person is outside the judicial officer’s role
  • the judicial officer took a different course of action that was open to them
  • any information provided by the judicial officer in response to the complaint.

The Council will then decide if the complaint appears to be substantiated. Based on this, the Council may decide to:

  • dismiss the complaint, if appropriate
  • refer the complaint to the relevant head of the relevant jurisdiction to deal with, with or without recommendations
  • proceed to a full examination of the complaint.

If the matter is examined and the Council considers the conduct serious enough to warrant considering the removal of the judicial officer, it may recommend that a Judicial Commission be established to further examine the complaint.

Complaints about inappropriate comments

A person may wish to complain to the Council about comments or actions by a judicial officer that they consider to be discourteous or inappropriate.

In these cases, the Council will review the relevant documents and audio recording of the matter. The Council will carefully consider the words spoken, the context in which the comments were made and the tone of voice used. The Council will also consider any information provided by the judicial officer in response to the complaint.

The Council will decide if the complaint appears to be substantiated. Based on this, the Council may decide to:

  • dismiss the complaint, if appropriate
  • refer the complaint to the relevant head of the relevant jurisdiction to deal with, with or without recommendations
  • proceed to a full examination of the complaint.

If the matter is examined and the Council considers the conduct is serious enough to warrant considering the removal of the judicial officer, it may recommend that a Judicial Commission be established to further examine the complaint.

Complaints that cannot be considered by the ACT Judicial Council

We cannot consider complaints about decisions

People may wish to complain about a judicial officer’s decision that they think is wrong or unfair. These can include complaints about the outcome of a matter or a decision about the process, for example, the way proceedings are conducted.

The Council cannot change decisions made by judicial officers. Decisions of judicial officers can usually be appealed. There are time limits for filing an appeal. If you would like to complain about the outcome of proceedings or another decision made by a judicial officer, you may wish to obtain independent legal advice.

What if I disagree with a judgment?

The Council is not able to change decisions made by a judicial officer.

The Council is not a substitute for the appeals process. The Council’s role is to examine complaints about a judicial officer’s behaviour or capacity, not to examine whether a judgment is correct.

If you believe a decision made by a judicial officer is wrong, you should talk to a legal practitioner about your appeal rights. A court of appeal is the appropriate avenue for determining whether a judicial officer made a legal error.

How do I make a complaint?

Anyone can make a complaint about an ACT judicial officer to the Judicial Council.

Complaints must be in writing. Your complaint must include:

  • your name
  • your address
  • the name of the judicial officer
  • a detailed description of the issue.

The Council is unable to accept anonymous complaints.

You can use our online form to lodge your complaint: ACT Judicial Council – Complaint Form.

The form includes guidance that can help you in making your complaint.

If you want to make a complaint about more than one judicial officer please use a separate form for each complaint.

You can also email your complaint to: Principal.Officer@actjudicialcouncil.org.au

or post it to:

Principal Officer
ACT Judicial Council
GPO Box 1884
Canberra ACT 2601

You can call 02 6276 0193 for further information.

What happens after a complaint is made?

Staff assisting the Principal Officer will acknowledge your complaint in writing within five working days and will be your point of contact while your complaint is considered.

The judicial officer who is the subject of the complaint and the head of their jurisdiction (the Chief Justice or Chief Magistrate) will be told about the complaint and any relevant details.

You or any other person may be asked to provide more information relevant to the complaint.

The Council will conduct a preliminary examination of the complaint and then either:

  • dismiss the complaint
  • refer the complaint to the relevant head of jurisdiction, or
  • conduct a full examination of the complaint.

The Council may dismiss a complaint after the preliminary examination if:

  • the complaint is found to be trivial, frivolous, vexatious or not in good faith or without merit
  • the matter complained about happened too long ago
  • you had or have other options available for addressing your complaint including appeal or review rights
  • the person complained about is no longer a judicial officer, or
  • the Council decides that further consideration of the complaint is not necessary or cannot be justified.

The Council and assisting staff are required to conduct all examinations in private, as far as practicable.

If a complaint proceeds to a full examination and the complaint is substantiated, the Council will refer the complaint to the relevant head of jurisdiction and advise the ACT Attorney‑General.

If the complaint is substantiated and serious enough to warrant considering whether the judicial officer should be removed from their position, the Council can recommend the establishment of a separate judicial commission to examine and report on the complaint. The Legislative Assembly may pass a resolution requiring the removal of a judicial officer based on the judicial commission’s report.

More Information

You can contact the Principal Officer for more information:

Principal Officer
ACT Judicial Council
GPO Box 1884
Canberra ACT 2601

Principal.Officer@actjudicialcouncil.org.au

Phone: 02 6276 0193