Reflections on TJ and Judicial Education
It is almost a year now since I have returned to the bench and have been the magistrate for the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. Yes, comprehensive law, therapeutic jurisprudence and non-adversarial justice have extended even to the remotest regions. My time for blogging has been limited, with the extensive circuit commitments that I have. But I have a short period now before I go on leave during which I can put thoughts to computer (and Internet).
I have been fortunate so far this year to have been involved in two programs on the application of therapeutic jurisprudence to judging: the Solution-Focused Judging program conducted in Melbourne by the National Judicial College of Australia---it took me a full day of air travel to get there from Kununurra---and an online course on judging in problem-solving courts organised by the National Judicial Institute of Canada, the National Judicial College of Australia, the Center for Court Innovation and others.
These programs brought home to me the inroads that therapeutic jurisprudence principles are making into judicial practice and judicial education. The online program enabled judicial officers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US, including Puerto Rico and others (such as TJ founder David Wexler and psychologist and TJ scholar Astrid Birgden), to exchange insights and techniques of practice in this important area. Even though there are distinct differences between jurisdictions, insights and techniques can in many cases be adapted for use in multiple jurisdictions.
I was able to access the course and contribute both from my chambers in Kununurra and my chambers on circuit in Halls Creek (which is about 359 km south of Kununurra). It made me feel less remote from the world!
In Australia, the preference amongst the judiciary now is to use the term ‘solution-focused judging’ rather than ‘problem-solving judging’ for two reasons: ‘solution-focused’ is an expression more directed to the positive and it also does not imply that the court is responsible for solving people’s problems but rather has a role as a facilitator, empowering people with the assistance of professionals to resolve underlying issues contributing to their legal problem. It is an approach to judging grounded in therapeutic jurisprudence, which values the therapeutic and the autonomy of the individual, amongst other justice system values.
The course in May was very popular and is set to be an ongoing program of the National Judicial College of Australia. We were fortunate to have the Chief Justice of Western Australia, Wayne Martin to open the conference, to have that great pioneer of drug courts, Peggy Fulton Hora to speak at the conference, to have other great presenters such as Astrid Birgden and to have pioneering Australian judicial officers also participating. The course, held over two days, was packed with useful information.
So these are important and inspiring developments in judicial education and practice and TJ and, I think, indicate some future directions in judicial education. The ongoing challenge for judicial education and the application of therapeutic jurisprudence in Australia is to penetrate beyond the magistrate’s court level to the intermediate court (District or County Court) and higher court (Supreme Court) levels. There are some promising signs in this direction but more work needs to be done for TJ practice to be seen to be an important component of judging in these courts.