Masterful Name Change

Trap for young players…

On 7 April 2015, the Courts Legislation Amendment Act 2015 was notified meaning that amongst a number of other changes from 21 April, the “Master” is retitled as “Associate Judge” in the ACT Supreme Court.

Mostly a practicality, this move recognises the nature of the role of the Master and how the differences between the expertise of the Master and the Judges has all but eroded, and reading the judgments of the Master, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. The change in title follows a recent trend of similar changes in Canada and Victoria.

Masters, or Benchers (Masters of the Bench) is a position that dates back to at least the 12th century courts of England. The Master traditionally handled procedural matters and can be found in most Common Law jurisdictions around the world. In Australia, the role was utilised to cut down on the workload of Judges and were given jurisdiction over simpler civil matters. Eventually the simpler aspect was cut out and Masters became civil specialists.

The full title “Associate Judge” is required but “Your Honour” will suffice as usual. Whilst I’m at it the applicable abbreviation is now “AsJ”.

I completely appreciate that “Marvellous Master Mossop” rolls off the tongue in a touch of alliteration that would make Dr Suess chortle, but “Associate Judge” is the new nomenclature and young players would do well to remember it.

Practitioners have proven slow to acknowledge the new title in practice. Even Registrars still stumble over the new title, often reverting back to the old title and in the past month I’ve seen a decent handful of consent orders, submissions and whatever else that still refer to the Associate Judge as the Master. Learned habits are hard to forget and the old dogs who have said and written Master for the last 30 years will have a hard time adapting. Law, like most worthwhile endeavours, depends largely on the power to adapt. In this case it won’t be fatal if you use the wrong title, but you will still look like a tit and frankly why risk offending a judicial officer…ever.

The only other major change that practitioners will need to be mindful of is the from now on appeals from the Associate Judge will need to go before the Court of Appeal, no longer a single Judge. A great move for efficiency that will no doubt be well received in the Territory.

So youngsters, avoid the trap, and repeat “the Associate Judge’s Associate associates with Judge’s Associates” in the mirror until your tongue turns blue.

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