Protector of the Rule of Law Award 2023

The Rule of Law Education Centre is delighted to announce that the Rule of Law Education Centre’s Protector of the Law Award will be presented to:

Deputy Chief Magistrate Theo Tsavdaridis.

The Board of the Rule of Law Education Centre would like to recognise the exceptional efforts of His Honour Deputy Chief Magistrate Theo Tsavdaridis for his enthusiasm, support and dedication to open justice and legal education in support of the rule of law.  His Honour has made a significant contribution of time to the schools attending the Courts this year, has assisted greatly to the facilitation of the program and also to the professional development and support that we provide to Legal Studies teachers in NSW, and across other states of Australia. His Honour has enabled the rule of law to proceed into the future by creating appreciation of the rule of law principles and open justice, creating community understanding and respect for law and the justice system in our young adults.

The Protector of the Law Award was created by the Board in 2019 to recognise significant contributors to the upholding and protection of the Rule of Law principles in Australia founded in the Magna Carta, with the first recipient being our founder, Robin Speed OAM.

Protection of the law requires many things. At its very foundation, it requires respect for the integrity of the electoral process and confidence in the representations and law making that occurs at the hands of those elected. It requires that the people are willing to engage with those laws and respect the responsibilities bestowed on them as laid out by them. It requires that people trust in the integrity of the people charged with administering those laws, such as police and government authorities.

Importantly though, it requires that people trust in those charged with administering the law in the judiciary. Trust in the independence of the judiciary is a key factor in gaining respect for the law – if members of a community do not trust the law is being applied and adhered to fairly and equitably by the judiciary, the integrity of the system as a whole is undermined.

If we are to be governed by the rule of law, we must have a Judicature to administer it. The characteristics of that Judicature reflect the functions it is charged to perform. First, it must be a Judicature that is and is seen to be impartial, independent of government and of any other centre of financial or social power, incorruptible by prospects of reward or personal advancement and fearless in applying the law irrespective of popular acclaim or criticism. Second, it must be a competent Judicature; there must be judges and practitioners who know the law and its purpose, who are alive to the connection between abstract legal principle and its practical effect, who accept and observe the limitations on judicial power and who, within those limitations, develop or assist in developing the law to answer the needs of society from time to time. Third, it must be a Judicature that has the confidence of the people, without which it loses its authority and thereby loses its ability to perform its functions. Fourth, it must be a Judicature that is reasonably accessible to those who have a genuine need for its remedies

  -Former Chief Justice Gerard Brennan and ‘The State of the Judicature’ speech delivered by him on 19 September 1997

Rule of  Law Education Manager Mrs Justine Hanks said of His Honour, “In 2023, His Honour Deputy Chief Magistrate Theo Tsavdaridis has gone above and beyond in the time that he has given to multiple school groups, in supporting their knowledge and access to information if they have questions after they leave the courts and in offering students in each and every group the opportunity to complete work experience with him should they want to, regardless of their future career paths. The exceptional support he provides to ensure there is open justice for school students to develop trust in our system of governance and an independent and impartial judiciary.

Not only does he regularly volunteer to speak to students visiting the courts but he has also volunteered to speak with teachers at the Legal Studies Association of NSW Annual Conference 2024 in order to assist teachers in their understanding aspects of the of the criminal trial process, creating better classroom outcomes for our students. All of these factors contribute to enhanced respect for the law, legal process and legal personnel, creating the conditions for the protection of the law into the future. NSW and Australia can only benefit long term from such positive interactions with our young people.””


Building Trust in the Judiciary through Court Excursions

The Rule of Law Education Centre’s Law Day Out Program is for year 11 and 12 Legal Studies students visiting the Sydney Courts. 

It has been running since March 2014 and aims to help create trust and respect of the rule of law and the judiciary through their interaction with a judicial officer and observation of the courts at work.

The Program, currently being facilitated at the Downing Centre in Sydney, features a talk from a judicial speaker, which, aside from deepening student understanding about the role of judicial officers in the justice process, creates respect for the law and judicial officers, in turn developing a culture of lawfulness and serves to protect our safe and law-abiding society.

In 2023, the Rule of Law Education Centre facilitated 2860 students, 201 teachers and 119 schools on their excursion to the Sydney Courts.

Over the course of these excursions in 2023, over 26 different judicial officers volunteered their time to talk to students about the justice system, their role as a judicial officer and the importance of the rule of law principles as foundations of the legal system.

Rule of Law Education Centre’s Education Manager, Justine Hanks, has seen firsthand the importance of the need to create respect for and understanding of the Australian justice system and its processes in young people. “It is very clear to me that students, and even some teachers, that come attend the Law Day Out have a very unrealistic and untrue idea of how Australian justice processes work. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the majority of our entertainment content being created in the USA that many Australians think that our justice system operates in the same way as theirs. Judicial interaction with school groups is one way that we are working towards creating better understanding and appreciation of the operation and effectiveness of our justice system in NSW. It isn’t a perfect system, but it is a system that operates well overall in comparison to many other countries, and it is vital that our young people understand and appreciate that to protect it into the future.”
“All of our volunteer judicial officers are valued participants in our program and have created distinct changes in the groups that they have spoken with. We are grateful to all of the judicial officers who have assisted our program and open justice in the Sydney Courts.”

Want to learn more about the importance of an independent judiciary?

An independent judiciary is a crucial component of the rule of law and upholding a fair and free society. This involves the ability of judges to administer justice and interpret the law without any external pressure or influence from other branches of government such as Parliament or the media. Additionally, individuals who come before the court expect that judicial officers will decide the merits of their case fairly and without bias. They will also have the ability to appeal judicial decisions. Notably, no other branch of government can direct the judiciary to act in a certain way.

It is important that individuals are educated and taught about significant rule of law principles such as the need for an independent judiciary, so they can identify and fight against potential abuses of power and attempts to disregard the rule of law. Without this ability, citizens may be unable to recognise when those in authority take actions to curtail individual freedoms and rights. 

Open Justice with and independent and impartial judicary is an essential element of the rule of law.

There can be no rule of law without an independent judiciary. The equal treatment of all under the law is not possible without independent and unbiased judges to interpret and apply the law

-Richard J Goldstone Retired justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa

Independence of the Judiciary is a key feature of the separation of powers and supports the achievement of the Rule of Law.

It also provides crucial checks and balances within legal systems with the aim of ensuring that the Executive and Government are behaving within their powers as defined by a country’s constitution.

This resource provides a comparison of the experience of judicial independence across three nations – Australia, Poland and Afghanistan, examining the role of the constitution and the associated the impacts of constitutional changes on judicial discretion and power, and therefore the achievement of the Rule of Law.