Shortly before Christmas, the Attorney General’s Department made an announcement as to the full composition of the new Court of Appeal in South Australia, which commences work this month. The judges are Justices:
The previous system of appeal – the full court system – was always somewhat bizarre. The idea was that if a litigant wanted to appeal against the judgment of a justice of the Supreme Court, the appeal was heard by more of the same bench of judges. Insofar as the court system provided for the first instance trial to be heard before a judge with some expertise in the particular area of law (and that was not very far at all) the appeal system involved going backwards, in the sense that the appeal judges were even less likely to have relevant expertise.
In England, the practice has grown up of ensuring that there is always at least one construction law specialist sitting in the Civil Court of Appeal, and that has had a useful impact. Each State in Australia is, of course, much smaller than England, and so would probably not be practicable to have any such system in this new South Australian Court of Appeal. It would be a useful start to have a specialist court of first instance. Indeed, it would make sense for there to be a national Court of Appeal system, but so entrenched is the State system in Australia that this is not likely to happen any time soon. There are of course federal courts, but their jurisdiction is somewhat limited (albeit inexorably growing).
Interestingly, the State court website in South Australia appears (so far as I can see today) to make no mention at all of the new Court of Appeal. The Chief Justice is not one of the judges on this new Court of Appeal. One suspects that he does not entirely welcome it.