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The Federal Government is seeking independent legal advice on establishing a Federal Judicial Commission to oversee allegations of bullying, sexual harassment, corruption, and other misconduct by judges in federal courts.

Draft laws to establish an integrity commission with power to investigate corruption by elected officials, law enforcement and bureaucrat – but not judicial officers – are currently the subject of public consultation. However, according to reports in The Australian, Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter is considering the potential to broaden the scope of this agency to also investigate and oversee judges.

The Law Council of Australia welcomed the reports.

“Since 2006, the Law Council has supported the establishment of an independent Federal Judicial Commission to promote transparency and accountability for judges,” President of the Law Council Jacoba Brasch QC said.

“Recent reports indicating that the government is now considering a standalone entity is a positive move … It is essential to the protection of the rule of law that there be a strong and independent judiciary, separate to, rather than subject to, review by the executive arm of government.”

Pressure has grown on the government to create a federal judicial oversight body after allegations of sexual harassment by former High Court Judge Dyson Heydon surfaced in 2020, and bullying and corruption allegations have since been levelled at other judges. 

Federal Attorney General Christian Porter said any oversight body would need to be carefully balanced to not threaten judges’ independence.

“I think the NSW judicial commission is a relatively sound model and a body that’s operated in practice in a way that appears efficient and sensible,” he told The Australian.

“I’ve received a number of pieces of advice responding to slightly different concepts and models and questions … I think something like that is constitutionally sustainable.”