The maintenance of institutional values

Research library futures

Jim Spigelman

The contribution that is made by the administration of justice to the social and economic welfare of Australia is in large measure based on institutional traditions, such as the independence of the judiciary, the incidents of a fair trial and the principle of open justice. These institutional traditions reflect values of abiding significance. Each generation of judges is a trustee of those traditions. It is for that reason that I have sought over a period of time to both articulate the continued significance of those traditions, and to warn of some of the dangers that arise from other pressures impinging on the administration of justice.1

The pertinence of these issues arises from the fact that the pressures on the Courts reflect pressures to which all areas of public sector activity have been subjected over recent decades, including, I am sure, libraries. I would not presume to lecture an audience such as this on the institutional values and traditions of our great public libraries. Nevertheless, I have found that when addressing contemporary pressures from the perspective of the administration of justice, the experience of other public activities is relevant to the administration of justice, and our own experience is relevant to others.

The Courts are an arm of government. They have not been, and cannot be, insulated from changes in attitude about the proper role of government and the appropriate ways to conduct governmental activities. In the case of libraries, whether the major public library or academic, specialist or local libraries, I assume that the pressures have been and are similar.

The pressures to which I refer include demands for different kinds of, and a greater level of, accountability and transparency in decision making, and the recent pre-eminence of commercial or economic values in public decision making; accompanied by the greater salience of what has been called the three "E's" - economy, efficiency and effectiveness - in competition with other values of government activity, such as accessibility, openness, fairness, impartiality, legitimacy, participation, honesty and rationality. This has often involved an increase in significance of managerial values over what may be called the professional values of an institution's traditions.

There seems to be in some circles a belief that it is always possible, without exception, to achieve more with fewer resources. I have in mind the response of an ardent micro-economic reformer who noticed that a string quartet performs a work by Mozart in exactly the same time in 2002 as it had been performed in 1802. For 200 years there has been no increase in productivity whatsoever. This reformer, sure that he has discovered a great scandal in the form of a collusive arrangement amongst professional musicians, believes the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission should investigate.

Some things take time. Justice is one of them. In some spheres of conduct productivity improvements are not possible without diminution of quality. That does not mean, however, that productivity is not an appropriate focus of attention.

Accountability of course is something that everyone is "for" - like democracy or freedom. As always, it is the detail that matters: accountability to whom and what. A central consideration for all public activities is the fact that they derive funds, in large measure, from taxation. This imposes a duty to account for the efficiency and effectiveness with which such funds are used.