Andrews' man 'inexperienced' for federal magistrate job says bar

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Andrews' man 'inexperienced' for federal magistrate job says bar

The Australian Bar Association has attacked the appointment of a staff member of Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews to the position of federal magistrate, saying he is not experienced enough.

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The Australian Bar Association has attacked the appointment of a staff member of Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews to the position of federal magistrate, saying he is not experienced enough.

The appointment of John O'Sullivan was announced last week after Federal Parliament rose for the winter break. It was immediately denounced by the Federal Opposition, which has written to Prime Minister John Howard calling on him to reconsider the appointment.

Australian Bar Association president Glenn Martin said John O'Sullivan had insufficient legal experience for the position.

'Three years is not enough. This is a hard court - it's not an easy place to work,' Martin said.

O'Sullivan was admitted to legal practice in 2000, and worked as a solicitor for three years before joining Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews's office in 2003.

Experience 'inadequate'

Martin said that while this meant he just met the minimum statutory requirement of being admitted to practice for five years, his experience was inadequate.

'Anyone who is appointed to that position must have demonstrated experience in litigation,' Martin said.

He said the Magistrates Court does not sit in divisions, and his industrial knowledge may not be sufficient if other matters came up.

'They have a huge range of jurisdictions in that court,' he said.

Martin said the minimum requirement for the position should be 10 years as a practising lawyer - 'and that should be 10 years recently.'

Apprehension of bias

Opposition legal affairs spokeswoman Nicola Roxon has written to John Howard urging the Government not to go ahead with the appointment. She warned that Mr O'Sullivan's political background would make it impossible for him to be free from apprehension of bias.

'As a magistrate who will be appointed to serve until he is 70, with constitutional protection from removal, you must consider the impossible position you are putting both the court and Mr O'Sullivan in,' Ms Roxon wrote.

Roxon said O'Sullivan 'is clearly a political appointment'.

'He lacks the legal experience to do an effective job as a magistrate' she said. 'He was a lawyer for less than four years before he went to work for the Liberal Party in Andrews' office.'

Tainted

'He has been appointed as an industrial relations specialist, but given his background as one of the authors of the Government's extreme IR laws, he will be tainted with a clear perception of bias on any IR matter that comes before him

'There is no evidence he has any experience at all on any other areas of law Federal Magistrates can be required to deal with - family law, trade practices, copyright or native title for example.'

However, a spokesman for Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said the criticism was based on a narrow view of legal experience.

O'Sullivan is due to take his oath of office next Monday, and would be based in Melbourne.

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