LEGISLATION which proposes to increase the number of judges in this country — including by allowing people from the Commonwealth to be appointed to the Bench — has triggered debate over whether foreigners should be allowed to hold judicial office in this land. We say anyone who is qualified for the job should be allowed to fill it, moreso if they come from a nation with which we share historical ties. At a time when a tide of right-wing xenophobia is sweeping the world, we must steadfastly reject insular thinking.
We are sure some will hold views similar to those expressed by Opposition senators Wade Mark and Gerald Ramdeen during debate on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Supreme Court of Judicature and Children) Bill. Both urged the State to reject appointment of “strangers” to the Bench. For sure, if there are posts which can be filled by qualified locals then those locals can and should be good enough to take up judicial appointment.
But it cannot be acceptable for us to bar the possibility of citizens of Commonwealth becoming judges here, especially in situations in which there are not enough candidates with the requisite standard of experience. For example, should plans for specialist trials for white collar crimes require it, the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) should be free to recruit people with special experience from other jurisdictions where the consideration of such matters is far more advanced.
Nor should we lose sight of the overall aim and objectives of the new legislation. This is a measure which will allow the courts to better handle the backlog of cases which now cripples the administration of justice. Viewed in this context, allowing for the appointment of a wider pool by allowing lawyers from the Commonwealth to be eligible for consideration by the JLSC serves to give the State more flexibility.
More flexibility does not necessarily mean locals will suffer. What’s more we must remember that, as a member of the Commonwealth, this country’s legal system already partakes in the comity between nations. Our lawyers are allowed to become high-level judicial officers in many neighbouring countries and lawyers from Commonwealth countries often appear at the Inner Bar here. Judicial appointment is simply a natural step forward.
Furthermore, there may be specific cases in which a non-national judge might be preferable. For example, many lawyers have always privately held the view that the question of whether a judge’s assets and income should be declared to the Integrity Commission should have been determined not by local judges but by a panel of Commonwealth jurists.
We are, therefore, relieved a motion to bar Commonwealth judges was defeated in the Senate last week. Such a motion sent a poor signal and was counter to the imperatives of a nation that embraces global, liberal values, and whose citizens have long enjoyed judicial appointments abroad.