Serendipity is not a term that is often used in legal writing but one that is particularly apt when describing my first encounter with the AIJA. I became a member while on the Council of the New Zealand Bar Association and after attending a seminar on discovery (yes really!). Since joining the AIJA it has provided a wealth of information, research material and camaraderie for me.
The AIJA is the acronym for the Australian Institution of Judicial Administration. Despite the title it is not just an organisation for judges and judicial administrators, but rather it is an organisation that is truly trans-Tasman and embraces the profession as well as the judiciary. Its members come from the Higher Courts in New Zealand, all judiciary in the State and Federal Courts of Australia and practitioners in both countries.
It is an organisation that encourages the profession to work with the judiciary to achieve better operation of our courts and better education of our judges and our practitioners. I am now in my second term as a Council member of the AIJA. In that time the AIJA has provided me with a lot of insight into the issues that both New Zealand and Australian judges grapple with. You also never know the other things you will learn. For example, Matt Collins QC (the former President of the Victorian Bar and now also a member of AIJA) educated me last year on the importance of styling your Zoom-scape to increase envy amongst one’s peers. He told me an unverified but nonetheless interesting fact that his Zoom-scape, a tasteful mix of photos, art and flowers scored 9/10 in an international competition! I have shared this useful information with my colleagues as we strive for just a little extra in the age of Court via Covid-19.
What does the AIJA do and why would you want to join?
But more seriously, AIJA is about ensuring the Courts achieve excellence; funding and supporting research into judicial administration; and the development and conduct of educational programmes for Judges, Court Administrators and Lawyers. The AIJA has funded much research into the administration of Courts and it offers seed funding to academics and others who would wish to develop research projects for publication. It publishes Bench books for judges, a guide for Judicial Conduct and a guide to uniform production of judgments. It has produced a document called International Framework for Court Excellence.
Recent examples of interesting studies carried out by the AIJA are research into perpetrator interventions in Australia looking at judicial views and sentencing on domestic violence; looking at the history of public information officers in Australian Courts; research on obstacles to parole and community based sentences for Aboriginal and indigenous Australians; and the impact of self-represented litigants on civil and administrative justice, just to name a few.
So, what does the AIJA stand for?
According to the website (aija.org.au) the values of the AIJA are to promote excellence in judicial administration by providing practical assistance and information for courts, tribunals and judicial officers. Its members are committed to:
- rule of law
- the integrity of the justice system
- equality of access to justice
- independence of the judiciary
- excellence in the administration of justice
- achieving practical reform on contemporary issues; and
- effective and efficient court administration.
These are vital issues for all judges and lawyers to grapple with and the AIJA offers practical support and intellectual debate on the issues of the day.
What does this mean practically?
The AIJA traditionally holds a number of educational events. Last year, the AIJA was particularly proud of the fact that despite Covid-19 it was able to hold a very well attended virtual conference series called “Providing Justice in a Viral World; Where to From Here?”. Over approximately five weeks panels made up of Australian and New Zealand Senior Court judges and practitioners examined how Covid-19 had impacted the work that we do in how Courts and the delivery of justice might look in the future and the lessons that we had learned from Covid-19 – what had worked and what hadn’t worked. A particularly interesting session entitled, “The Different Sociological and Neurological Impacts of Viral or Online Courts” was very well attended, with Professor Ian Lambie, a clinical psychologist from the University of Auckland, giving insight into how an online administration of justice could potentially affect litigants. I chaired a fantastic session on the impact of current lockdown restrictions on the principles of open justice and access to the Courts, which featured Justice Cooper from the New Zealand Court of Appeal, two Australian barristers and the President of the New Zealand Law Society.
At recent Committee discussions the AIJA has been thinking about such diverse topics as judicial bullying, discussing the Australian therapeutic jurisprudence clearing house and mental health and the Courts. The work on therapeutic jurisdiction reflects some of the thinking currently being done by a working group of New Zealand judges on how to improve participants’ experiences in the courts. There is no doubt that the concerns that Australian judges have are almost identical to those held by New Zealand judges. None of us who litigate operate in a vacuum and we cannot ignore the social issues of our day and their impact upon courts. Gender equity, ethnicity, social economic position of participants in our justice system, the issues raised by administration of justice to our indigenous people are all issues which lawyers and judges need to consider. AIJA has helped to channel some of the intellectual debate and hopefully drive forward lasting change in the Courts.
AIJA also provides gender statistics for Australian judges in Australia. Readers might be interested to know that 37% of the Australian Commonwealth judges are women as at 30 June 2020, an increase of only 0.7% from the previous year. Women judges make up 30% of judges in the New South Wales state courts (a drop of 1.1% from the previous year) and only 28% in Tasmania which is up almost 5% from previous years. This reflects some of the analysis done in New Zealand and reinforces recent work done by the New Zealand Bar Association updating statistics on participation of women counsel in our higher courts.
The AIJA is a great organisation to belong to, and it’s a bargain – only about AUS$185 per annum for membership.
For all of us involved in litigation and who care and think about access to justice and how justice ought to be administered fairly and equitably to all those who seek justice, the AIJA is the place for you.
The AIJA has recently undergone somewhat of a transformational change in that it has moved its base of location from Melbourne to Sydney and has a new Executive Director. The new committee have put forward a number of exciting initiatives to propel the work of the AIJA into a post-Covid world. I hope that you, as readers will be interested enough to join and to take part in the debate.