With a lower court bill being passed recently, judiciary title changes are now on the table in the Northern Territory as magistrates seek to shake off the shackles of tradition and be renamed judges (without taking a pay-rise).
Magistrates believe it is only fair they receive the title of ‘judge’ as they essentially do the same work. In 2013-2014 magistrate courts processed 96% of criminal cases alone!
“Magistrates are in a real sense judges. They have the same basic qualifications for appointment as judges and are subject to the same standards to judicial conduct, competence and ethics. The title of magistrate reflects a public service magistracy of a by-gone era” says Chief Magistrate Judge Ray Rinaudo.
Two groups which represent the interests of both magistrates and judges have been lobbying for the name change for years. The Judicial Conference of Australia & the Australian Association of Magistrates are adamant there is no relevant distinction between judges and magistrates and so the difference in title is nonsensical.
“We say the title ‘judge’ should apply to all of the judiciary. Magistrates apply the law and are the sentencing body. In trials they carry out the same function as a judge”, states Brett Dixon, Association President. Mr Dixon is lobbying each Australian state Attorney-general to adopt the NT name changes as well.
Queensland Bar Association President Shane Doyle QC believes the move would achieve uniformity and improve recognition for their work. He is asking the Federal government to weigh in on the issue.
Justice Minister & Attorney General Yvette D’Ath rebuts any talk about similar changes taking place outside of the NT. “I appreciate that the magistrates play an important role in the judicial system but there are currently no plans to adopt changes similar to the Northern Territory”, she says.
Magistrates have been referred to as judges for many years already in the UK, Canada and New Zealand.
The Title Change from Magistrate to Judge Could:
- Raise the status of the court
- Help attract high-quality candidates
- Improve morale through increased recognition for achievements