Finance control for state courts

Finance control for state courts

VICTORIA’S courts are expected to have greater control over their own finances from today after the Baillieu government put in place the first phase of the long-awaited Courts Executive Service.

The changes, promised days before the 2010 state election, come just weeks after the state’s top judge, Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, slammed state bureaucrats’ relentless focus on financial targets and ”inappropriate” productivity goals, saying they had relegated the courts to little more than ”a car factory”.

Asked if he agreed with the judge’s comments, Attorney-General Robert Clark said Chief Justice Warren ”is making a very similar point to what I have been making, that the courts need to have more control over their own activities and that would be greatly strengthened if they have direct control over the administrative services that support the courts”.

The changes that come into effect today were promised by the then opposition Liberal-National Party coalition just before the November 2010 election.

Until now, courts have been in direct competition for funds with other areas administered by the Justice Department, such as police and Corrections, leading to criticism by the state’s top judges that the courts are constantly overlooked in their requests for adequate funding and services.

The changes give the courts more autonomy by ensuring funds earmarked for the courts are channelled via a dedicated unit, to be known for now as the Courts and Tribunals Service and which will become the Courts Executive Service.

The CES will have a board comprising the state’s top judges, and the judges – not the attorney-general – will appoint the chief executive.

Mr Clark said while the CES would be a ”freestanding, virtually autonomous” unit within the Justice Department, it would not have power to change the total amount earmarked for each court by the government.

The changes come one year after a steering committee, led by the former Federal Court chief justice, Michael Black, QC, handed the government its final structural recommendations.

Talks are continuing between the government and the state’s top judges on the final detail, including the CES legislation.

Mr Clark said the government wanted to bed down the CES administrative structure now, before the legislation was drafted, so that the state’s top judges could see if it would work properly and propose changes if needed.

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