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Thursday, 27 June 2002
Page: 4543

Mr McCLELLAND (10:00 AM) —The opposition fully supports the passage of the Jurisdiction of Courts Legislation Amendment Bill 2002, which essentially has four main purposes. Firstly, it facilitates the establishment of the ACT Court of Appeal; secondly, it abolishes appeals from the ACT Supreme Court to the full court of the Federal Court of Australia; thirdly, it abolishes the office of judicial registrar in the Federal Court; and, finally, it makes minor amendments to Federal Court practice and procedure.

In terms of the establishment of the ACT Court of Appeal, the ACT is blessed by the competence of its judiciary. It is a good thing, I believe, for the territory to have the ACT Court of Appeal, and the judges of the ACT, given their calibre, will have no difficulty at all in regularly discharging that appellate function. The ACT government has passed the Supreme Court Amendment Act 2001, which provides for an ACT Court of Appeal to hear appeals from the ACT Supreme Court. The provisions of this bill complement that legislation.

I note that the Attorney-General has indicated that the current system of Federal Court judges being appointed as additional judges to the ACT Supreme Court will continue and these judges will be eligible to sit on the Court of Appeal. I welcome the Attorney-General's efforts to ensure that parties in the ACT Court of Appeal will continue to benefit from that input of additional judicial expertise. I understand that the Federal Court itself quite enjoys that role, which tends to give a wider variety of matters to deal with. There is no doubt that the cross-fertilisation of judicial talent considerably enhances the delivery of justice in the ACT.

There have been no judicial registrars in the Federal Court for some years. Judicial registrars used to handle less complex litigation but such work is now performed by the Federal Magistrate's Court. The opposition agrees that the provisions proposed to be repealed no longer serve any practical purpose. The other amendments which relate to the practice and procedure of the Federal Court are non-controversial, and many we can be quite proud of as reflecting the way the Federal Court has developed.

The amendments will allow the registrar to appoint as a marshal a person who is not engaged under the Public Service Act 1999. This overcomes the difficulty experienced by the court when a ship must be arrested in a remote area where there is no person employed under the Public Service Act who could act as a marshal. Another amendment will allow the Chief Justice to refer part of a matter to the Full Court. Again this clarifies an existing power possessed by the Chief Justice, but that is entirely sensible. If there is an element of complexity that can be resolved by the Full Court but does not require the whole matter to go there, it will facilitate that.

The Federal Court's interlocutory jurisdiction where a matter is referred by a tribunal or a judge will be amended. This will facilitate the hearing of interlocutory matters by a single judge. Also, a single judge in an appeal will be allowed to order that an appeal be dismissed for want of prosecution, or failure to comply with a direction of the court. This will overcome a difficulty experienced by the court in constituting a full bench, which quite often in centres other than Melbourne or Sydney can involve the court flying judges in from interstate to dispose of vexatious appeals.

A writ, commission or process will be allowed to be signed by the affixing of an electronic signature. The Federal Court is to be congratulated in terms of the degree to which it is promoting the use of new technology in the filing of documents and also in the use of video links and so forth. It is really among world's best practice, if not an international leader, in promoting the use of electronic technology.

Another amendment will allow locally engaged diplomatic staff to witness affidavits. This brings the act into line with other legislation concerning the witnessing of documents. It will provide clearer provision for the use of video and audio links in proceedings. That also facilitates the electronic communication that I have previously noted. I commend the court for those developments.

I note that the government also proposes minor amendments to the bill following further consultations with the Federal Court and the opposition supports that procedure. I congratulate the Attorney-General's Depart-ment for its ongoing dialogue with the Federal Court on improving the court's procedures. I am not suggesting that there is any reluctance on the part of the Federal Court for that to occur. The Federal Court is tremendously sophisticated in its ongoing review of procedures to make them more practicable in terms of access and the speed with which justice is delivered. The opposition is pleased to support the provisions of the Jurisdiction of Courts Legislation Amendment Bill 2002 and wishes the ACT Court of Appeal every success. The ACT is very fortunate indeed in the calibre of judges that it has, and they will have no trouble at all in fulfilling the important appeal role.