A National Curriculum for Australian Judicial Officers

Unit One The Judicial Function


Judicial officers encounter situations in and outside the court room that require them to consider how they should conduct themselves consistently with their judicial oath and required standards of conduct. This may involve issues which raise questions in regard to appropriate judicial conduct.

Aim of this Unit

Professional development activities should help judicial officers –


  • to identify common problems that raise questions as to the appropriate standard of conduct required by the judicial oath or any ethical concerns 
  • by providing information about resources available to assist them in resolving such questions
  • to consider and apply the relevant principles
  • by providing guidance in regard to judicial conduct and ethical problems which arise in and outside the court room.

Application of the Core Dimensions

Substantive and Procedural Law

Programs in this unit could cover the constitutional aspects of the separation of powers and the institutional role of courts, the law and procedure concerning judicial bias and recusal applications and judicial officers’ ethical obligations and obligations pursuant to their oath.

Judge Craft Skills

Programs may consider how judicial officers’ conduct in court might give rise to ethical problems such as an apprehension of bias; how best to apply therapeutic jurisprudence principles to different kinds of court proceedings and in different areas of law; the relationship between therapeutic jurisprudence and judicial independence and impartiality;

Social Context

Programs may consider how judicial officers’ implicit biases affect decision-making; how to minimise the impact of these implicit biases in decision-making; self-reflection on and challenged implicit biases;

Attitudes and Values

Programs may consider how personal attitudes, values and implicit biases can affect the process of judging.

Each unit will require different weight to be given to each of the Core Dimensions depending on the nature of the unit, and this should be reflected in any rationale and learning outcomes of a program developed under this unit.

Core Judicial Qualities


The courts remain independent of the other branches of government and judicial officers are not subject to improper pressure or influence when making decisions. 10


This requires ‘treating like cases alike; a process which is free from coercion or corruption; ensuring that inequality between the parties does not influence the outcome of the process; adherence to the values of procedural fairness…and unbiased neutral decision making…’ 11


Being patient and respectful, allowing litigants to present their case and ensuring the absence of actual or perceived bias 12


open court principles, annual reports identifying expenditure, rights to appeal, as well as giving reasons, noting the variation in this value for those in leadership roles. 13


Ensuring the reasonably timely resolution of cases. 14


Maintaining an open rather than closed court as far as possible and providing clear and reasoned decisions that are publicly available as far as possible. 15


Having sound knowledge of the relevant law and procedure as well as good court craft skills 16


Displaying intellectual honesty, respect and placing the obligations of judicial office above personal interests both inside and outside the courtroom. 17


Doing justice according to law irrespective of the consequences or popularity of the decision 18


1.1 - Judicial Independence & The Role of The Judicial Officer


These programs provide judicial officers with the opportunity to consider broad issues regarding judicial independence and the institutional role of judges. 


These programs could encompass:

  • a consideration of the literature and official statements in regard to the role of the judiciary and of the individual judicial officer
  • the effect of judicial independence on the relationship between heads of jurisdiction and judicial officers
  • boundaries between administrative issues and an independent judiciary
  • handling of complaints against judicial officers
  • issues about the extent to which, and how, judicial officers should take some responsibility for addressing some of the problems they see before them, eg.in legislation, administration or the outcomes for the people who appear before them.

1.2 - Judicial Conduct & Ethical Issues


These programs provide judicial officers with opportunities to consider practical issues which can arise regarding judicial conduct and ethics. 


These programs could encompass:


  • criticism of trial counsel
  • dealing with difficult colleagues
  • self-represented litigants
  • avoiding possible conflicts of interest
  • the duty to sit and determine cases
  • conduct in court
  • conduct out of court
  • conflicts of interest
  • ostensible bias
  • disqualification
  • dealing with the media
  • writing references for colleagues or staff
  • invitations to give speeches while a judicial officer and after retirement
  • invitations to practitioners’ or law firms’ social functions
  • the impact of judicial conduct on others

The Judicial Role

The focus of these programs is the role of judicial officers to apply appropriate standards of judicial conduct in their work.

1.3 - Judicial impartiality and understanding the impact of implicit bias on process of judging


These programs provide judicial officers with opportunities to understand and evaluate how implicit bias affects judicial decision-making, (including uncovering and challenging any implicit biases they themselves might have) considering the need for judicial officers to be impartial.


These programs could encompass:

  • the types of implicit biases
  • self-reflection on the attitudes and values that judicial officers bring to decision-making
  • whether and how implicit biases impact judicial impartiality.


The Judicial Role

The focus of these programs is ensuring judicial officers apply appropriate standards of judicial conduct to their work. 

1.4 - The Judicial Function and the Government


These programs provide judicial officers with information about, and an opportunity to discuss, issues of public policy as they relate to the judicial function.


These programs could encompass a wide range of topics, including:


  • dealings with agencies of the executive government
  • dealings with industry and community groups
  • human rights
  • the extent to which judicial officers can and should be involved in the policy making process including the legislative process
  • the debate in regard to judicial activism – including issues related to the role of courts in society, judicial method, how judicial officers should respond to public criticism, and the materials available to judicial officers on which to base their decisions.

The Judicial Role

The focus of these programs is the judicial role of keeping abreast of developments in public policy which impact on the law and the work of the courts.

1.5 - Critical reflection on race, religion and unconscious bias (social and cultural bias)


These programs provide judicial officers with an opportunity to deepen judicial officers’ understanding of unconscious bias as it relates to gender, social, cultural or other biases. 


These programs could encompass:

  • the nature of unconscious biases
  • facilitating exploration of judicial officers’ own unconscious biases
  • challenging unconscious biases

1.6 - Therapeutic Jurisprudence Principles


These programs provide judicial officers with an opportunity to consider the relevance of the theory and practice of therapeutic jurisprudence to their work.


These programs could encompass


  • therapeutic jurisprudence and the judicial role of managing
  • therapeutic jurisprudence and the judicial role of decision making
  • therapeutic jurisprudence in specialist courts
  • criminal cases
  • civil cases
  • family law cases.

The Judicial Role

The focus of these programs is the role of judicial officers, the impact of their actions on those involved in the court process and judging techniques through which judicial officers can promote greater respect for and confidence in the justice system.


This topic may not always be a program in its own right but may be integrated within a wide range of programs.