The High Court is considering whether to allow an appeal to a Family Court decision after it was disclosed that the judge and a barrister in the matter had a relationship that included “numerous” text messages and meetings over coffee or drinks.
A Perth real estate agent has brought an appeal to the High Court on the grounds of apprehended bias after his lawyers discovered that the opposing side’s barrister Gillian Anderson had been engaging in a “personal relationship” with the now-retired judge, the Honourable John Walters QC, throughout the course of the proceedings.
In dismissing the retrial mid-last year, Justices Steven Strickland and Judy Ryan, who formed the majority, found that the extensive contact between the two parties would not cause a reasonable person to fear that the judge might have been biased.
However, in a dissenting judgement, the Honourable Chief Justice Will Alstergren said it was incumbent on judges and barristers to disclose any contact that could raise a reasonable concern of apprehended bias.
As a result of the case, the Australian Law Reform Commission is reviewing laws in relation to judicial impartiality with an inquiry set to examine whether the law about actual or apprehended bias relating to judicial decision-making is appropriate and sufficient to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice. They are expected to release a consultation paper later this month.