Courts and an independent judiciary are an essential institution in democratic societies.  However, scholarship on the Australian judiciary tends to be focused on specific aspects of decision making such as sentencing, or doctrinal legal analysis of appellate opinions, or a political analysis of courts, especially the higher courts as an arm of government. Scholarship on the legal profession which may have a broader scope, rarely considers the judiciary.

Analysing information provided by judges through this National Survey of Australian Judges fills important gaps in understanding the Australian judiciary.  Topics addressed include personal and social characteristics such as age, gender, family background, skills needed for judicial work, and attitudes towards and experiences of their work.  Comparisons with findings from the National Survey of Australian Magistrates 2007 enables identification of similarities and differences across these two parts of the Australian judiciary.

The National Survey of Australian Judges was sent to 566 judges throughout Australia in March 2007.  This survey was sent to judicial officers in all state and territory supreme courts, district and county courts, the Federal Court, Family Court, High Court and the then Federal Magistrates Court (now the Federal Circuit Court).  The survey was printed a booklet with a bright blue cover to distinguish it from the 2002 magistrates surveys. Responses were received into June 2007; 309 surveys were returned, giving a national response rate of 54.5%.  The judges who responded are generally representative of the judges as a whole, in terms of gender, time on the bench and level of court and appear generally representative in terms of age, though that cannot be calculated fully, as baseline date of birth data for the entire judiciary was not available.

Findings from this phase of the research are published:

Mack, Kathy, Sharyn Roach Anleu and Jordan Tutton (2018) ‘The Judiciary and the Public: Judicial Perceptions’, Adelaide Law Review 39(1): 1-36.

Roach Anleu, Sharyn and Kathy Mack (2017) Performing Judicial Authority in the Lower Courts, London: Palgrave.

Mack, Kathy and Sharyn Roach Anleu (2013) ‘Skills for Judicial Work:  Comparing Women Judges and Women Magistrates’ in Ulrike Schultz and Gisela Shaw (eds) Gender and Judging, Oxford: Hart Publishing: 211-229.

Mack, Kathy and Sharyn Roach Anleu (2012) ‘Entering the Australian Judiciary: Gender and Court Hierarchy’ 34 (3) Law & Policy 313-347.

Roach Anleu, Sharyn and Kathy Mack (2010) ‘The Work of the Australian Judiciary: Public and Judicial Attitudes’ 20 Journal of Judicial Administration 3-17.

Mack, Kathy and Sharyn Roach Anleu (2008) ‘The National Survey of Australian Judges: An overview of findings’ 18 Journal of Judicial Administration 5-21.

More information about how this survey was:

Developing the judges survey

The judges survey was modelled on the first magistrates survey, covering the same topics and using the same format and structure.  However, developing the judges survey involved modifying the magistrates survey in several respects:

  • Terminology — replace magistrates with judges.
  • Some changes to reflect nature of work—eg adding questions about juries.
  • Revising questions based on responses to first survey.
  • Rewording to clarify questions.
  • Adding/dropping response choices.
  • Changing some open-ended questions to close-ended questions using categories developed from analysis of first survey.
  • Drawing on US judicial surveys to suggest revisions or additional questions.

As with the first magistrates survey, the draft judges survey was circulated to a few judges and academic colleagues for comment.  After revisions, it was formally pilot tested with several judges of differing ages, in state and federal trial and appeal courts, including men and women, recently appointed and longer serving judges. This led to further refinement of the questionnaire.

During the development of the survey, we undertook further consultations including presentations to judicial audiences reporting on findings from and information about the useful impact of the first magistrates survey.  This was especially important in developing a positive awareness of the survey and contributed to a strong response rate.

Administering the judges survey

Administering the survey involved essentially the same processes as for the first magistrates survey:

  • Obtaining ethics approval for the pilot survey as well as the actual survey, and for all supporting documentation.
  • Obtaining names and court addresses of all judges from the courts, as this information is not publicly available in all jurisdictions.
  • Deciding what judicial officers would be included in the survey.  Judges who sit only in specialist courts with lay members, such as industrial commissions, were generally included, as were acting judges if they had a relatively long term or frequently recurring appointment.
  • Using similar strategies for maximising response including statements of support from key professional associations – the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration, the National Judicial College of Australia and the Judicial Conference of Australia – in all introduction letters; for the district and county courts, an indication that the survey was supported by the Council of Chief Judges, and, in two jurisdictions, a letter from the Chief Justice of the jurisdiction, encouraging their colleagues to respond.

This phase of the research was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant (DP0665198).