New Zealand Law Society - Australian lawyers leap to defence of judicial spouses

Australian lawyers leap to defence of judicial spouses

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The Law Council of Australia says an article in Brisbane's Courier Mail newspaper which attacks the spouse travel allowance of spouses of High Court of Australia judges, is unfair and sexist.

The front page story - which is behind a paywall - comments on the travel expenses of the spouse of the High Court of Australia’s Chief Justice, Susan Kiefel AC. It is critical of the amount spent on travel by High Court of Australia judges and their spouses in 2017/18.

Headlined "Top Judge's husband racks up mega bill", the story said the husband of Australia's Chief Justice had spent more taxpayer cash on overseas travel "than most of his wife's colleagues, and 15 times higher than almopst any other spouse".

"I am troubled that the spouses of previous male Chief Justices have not been the subject of attention when travelling with their partner, but the male partner of our first female Chief Justice is the subject of this attention for routine travel," Law Council President Arthur Moses SC says.

"It is not appropriate that the spouses of judicial officers be drawn into these types of unnecessary and misinformed commentary which detract from the public service of our judicial officers."

He says that under the guidelines clearly stated in the Judicial and Statutory Officers (Remuneration and Allowances) Act 1984, spouses of the Chief Justice and Justices of the High Court are permitted to travel with them on official duties in Australia and overseas that involve staying away from home one night or more, and that this cost is borne by the Commonwealth.

"Judges and their spouses are regularly invited to attend events in Australia and overseas, which are directly related to their important and vital work, to speak to the legal profession and the broader community on a range of matters. They attend these events out of duty and service to the courts," Mr Moses says.

"The Chief Justice in particular is required to undertake travel in her role at the request of the legal profession in order to address the profession across the country. Often her spouse is invited to attend these events. I am sure that the Chief Justice attends these events out of a sense of duty, not because she wants to be away from home."

The Australian Bar Association has also criticised the report. ABA President Jennifer Batrouney QC says the High Court of Australia is a national court that sits around Australia, and one of the three arms of government.

"The High Court is renowned the world over for the quality of its jurisprudence, and it is entirely appropriate that the judges of the Court travel internationally for a variety of official purposes, including conferences and education," she says.

"The burden of travel is particularly heavy for the Chief Justice. All spouses of High Court judges, including the Chief Justice’s husband, make very significant sacrifices because of the nature of judicial work, and any criticism of their travel costs is entirely without foundation."

New Zealand

An article on the Stuff website in September 2018 said $28 million had been spent in New Zealand in the past five years on national travel by members of the judiciary and judicial officers.

The article did not provide information on the numbers involved, but did note that "judicial officers" included dispute referees and adjudicators and reflected "a large number of people".

Stuff said $1,392,318 million had been spent on international travel, and $1.5 million spent on judges' spouses or partners travelling with them overseas in the five years.

The latest version of the Guidelines for Judicial Conduct on the Courts of New Zealand website does not appear to directly address the issue of spousal remuneration for travel. The guidelines state that "(89) There is generally no objection to judges receiving travel and accommodation in return for providing papers at conferences or similar occasions" but it does not state whether this extends to an accompanying spouse or partner.

The Registrar of the Supreme Court has advised that as part of a judge's terms and conditions (not rules) a daily allowance of $96 (and associated travel costs) can be claimed on behalf of the judge’s partner if the judge is absent from his or her home court overnight on official business within New Zealand and is accompanied by his or her partner.

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