In 2005 the National Judicial College of Australia began the development of a National Curriculum for Professional Development for Australian Judicial Officers. The decision to develop a curriculum of this kind arose because of the perceived need to establish a framework to give some structure and balance to the various professional development activities for judicial officers being held throughout Australia.
The curriculum is intended to be a document to which all bodies providing professional development for judicial officers, including courts, might refer to set priorities, to identify areas for new programs and to avoid duplication of effort. It is not meant to be prescriptive.
This curriculum is not
- A curriculum for training persons to become judicial officers. The curriculum assumes that knowledge of the law and those skills which are required for appointment as a judicial officer.
A listing of all the programs a judicial officer should undertake in his/her time on the bench. Various programs will not be appropriate or valuable for a particular judicial officer. The curriculum is a listing of all programs that should desirably be available to all Australian judicial officers from the various providers of judicial professional development.
In developing the Curriculum the National Judicial College of Australia sought comments from all courts in Australia, the Judicial Conference of Australia, the Australian Association of Magistrates, the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration, the Judicial Commission of NSW and the Judicial College of Victoria.
The Judicial Role
All judicial officers should have the opportunity, throughout their judicial career, to undertake a range of professional development activities which will help them perform their judicial role. The programs which together make up this professional development curriculum should help judicial officers to perform their judicial role by –
- Maintaining their knowledge and mastery of the law.
At the very centre of a judicial officer’s work is the need to know and apply the law, both substantive and procedural. This includes the interpretation of statutes and the application of the laws of evidence. Professional development activities can help judicial officers to keep up to date with changes and developments in the law and to refresh and deepen their knowledge and understanding of it.
- Managing efficiently the cases before them, the court room and their own work.
Judicial officers have a management role in three situations. They need to manage the cases before the court over which they preside, the court room itself, and their other work outside the courtroom. Judicial officers not only preside over trials and decide cases. For some, an aspect of their management of cases is the encouragement of the resolution of disputes between the parties by alternative means. Judicial officers influence dispute resolutions in various ways and, in doing so, exercise a specific role.
- Making decisions and giving reasons for decision, both written and oral.
Judicial officers make decisions in all aspects of their work. Decisions are made in and out of court. At the core of a judicial officer’s work is the making of decisions and the exercise of judgment. Usually a judicial officer must give reasons for the decision. Professional development activities should help judicial officers to deliver oral judgments and write well composed judgments. Part of the judicial role is also to give directions to juries. Although this does not involve the judicial officer in making a decision, it requires the judicial officer to give the jury the guidance necessary to make a correct decision. The judicial role also involves the sentencing of offenders. In this aspect judicial officers must make decisions in order to sentence correctly.
- Applying appropriate standards of judicial conduct.
Judicial officers, whilst performing their role and in their private lives, encounter situations which require them to consider how they should conduct themselves and which may involve ethical issues raising questions in regard to appropriate judicial conduct.
- Understanding the relationship between the judiciary and society and changes in society.
The judicial system performs a central role in society. Whilst judicial officers act independently they are conscious of the social contexts of the matters that come before them. Professional development activities which deal with social context issues alert judicial officers to the diversity within the community which is reflected in matters before the courts. Although professional development programs will sometimes specifically deal with social context issues, usually these issues will be dealt with pervasively in programs dealing with other topics.
- Keeping abreast of developments in knowledge and issues of public policy that impact on the law.
There are many developments in knowledge in various aspects of life which impact on the law and the work of the courts. There are also various public policy issues which arise and can be of relevance to judicial officers as they perform their judicial role.
- Using information and other technology, in and outside the courtroom, to assist with judicial work.
Judicial officers need to be familiar, in general terms, with what technologies can do and their limitations.
- Maintaining health and wellbeing.
Judicial officers perform their work under considerable pressure. They need to maintain their physical and mental health. Doing so helps them perform their role more efficiently and effectively.