Judges in Australia are not confined to the performance of judicial functions only. As judges at federal and state levels are held in very high regard by the general public, governments at both levels have from time to time sought to have judges perform non-judicial functions.
Australian judges have engaged in a broad spectrum of non-judicial or extra-judicial activities.There have been a few historical instances of judges accepting ambassadorial appointments. A Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sir Owen Dixon, served as Ambassador to the United States; Chief Justice John Latham was Minister Plenipotentiary in Japan; and Justice Fox of the Federal Court served as Ambassador of Australia for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Safeguards. The Director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was at one stage a federal judge; likewise the Chair of the National Crime Authority. Federal judges have been appointed as President or Deputy President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), a tribunal performing ‘administrative’ functions. Judges have been entrusted with the non-judicial function of authorising warrants for the interception of communications, and more recently with the issuance of detention and questioning orders in relation to terrorism investigations. The use of judges, federal and state, in conducting royal commissions and other inquiries ‘has been a settled feature of Australian public life during the whole history’ of Australia. Judges have been appointed to perform such a role mainly because of their special qualities: ‘training and skill to gather facts, identify those which are relevant, assess the honesty of evidence, evaluate competing arguments, act with sensitivity and neutrality in unravelling controversial issues and present an impartial report evidencing legal accuracy and dispassion’.