A fragile bastion:[1] UNSW judicial traumatic stress study[2]

J Hunter,[3] R Kemp,[4] K O’Sullivan[5] and P Vines[6]

The UNSW study[7] examined 205 NSW judicial officers’ survey responses regarding the prevalence and impact of three kinds of traumatic stress: threats to the person, vicarious trauma, and vilification and included two psychometric tests, measuring PTSD symptoms and psychological distress. It follows Carly Schrever’s pioneering Victorian study on judicial officers’ stress and well-being.[8] The UNSW study reveals alarmingly high levels of psychological distress among respondents with 30% receiving tests scores indicative of likely PTSD. Over half reported being the subject of one or more type of threat, including 23% who had experienced death threats. Three quarters of judicial officers reported suffering negative effects associated with vicarious trauma and more than half of the respondents reported vilification in the form of harsh public criticism. The findings enable comparisons to be drawn between courts. Compared to judges in the higher courts, magistrates reported qualitatively and quantitatively different experiences, including significantly higher levels of trauma-related symptoms.


In Australia in the mid-1990s, the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG attracted criticism from the profession with his article on judicial stress (subtitled, “An unmentionable topic”).[9] The general topic of judicial well-being then languished until 2017 when former magistrate David Heilpern spoke at the Federal Court-hosted Sydney Lecture of the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation (now known as “Minds Count”) with a personal account of the traumatic nature of his work presiding over trials involving evidence of horrific child abuse cases.[10] As one Local Court survey respondent to the UNSW study noted, there have been tangible and tragic indicators of workplace pressures on judicial officers with the deaths in Victoria in 2018 and 2017 respectively of Magistrates Stephen Myall and Jacinta Dwyer.[11]

The tragic deaths in 2020 of Federal Circuit Court Judge Guy Andrew and of New Zealand District Court Judge Robert Ronayne, add further evidence to the contemporary challenge for judicial officers to maintain good psychological health.

In 1997, the Honourable John Doyle AC, then Chief Justice of South Australia, observed that “the judiciary as an institution has suffered in silence when it … [has been] the subject of inaccurate and ill-informed discussion and criticism”.[12] This observation has potency in the age of social media, and it is notable that these concerns are repeated in responses to the UNSW Study 20 years later showing continuing ill-informed or unfair media comment about judicial officers. An illustration of this “suffering in silence” comes from one magistrate in the UNSW study who said that negative comment “without any true understanding of the case or decision” causes concern and “it is difficult not to be upset by it when family, friends and others comment on it to you”.

The researchers undertook the UNSW study with the working hypothesis that judicial officers are not exempt from the human condition[13] and that many are confronted by the trauma of others’ lives in episodic and often relatively predictable ways. Vicarious trauma (known also as secondary traumatic stress or compassion fatigue or the “cost of caring”)[14] is one of three focal points of the UNSW study. Recognising the presence of vicarious trauma to some extent challenges conventional wisdom that judicial officers adjudicate by putting to one side their emotions (along with their beliefs and personal predilections). Indeed, some respondents to our survey indicated that the mix of other potential trauma (such as threats to their safety, and vilification) and the intensity of their workload means there is little relief between trauma episodes.

A number of studies have shown that vicarious trauma can be a side effect of work as lawyers,[15] as jurors,[16] as fire fighters,[17] among social workers,[18] as well as those working in medicine.[19] Of course, the dynamics of judicial officers’ exposure to vicarious trauma differs from that of first responders to crises. One difference is that judicial officers’ trauma burden is affected by the constraints of their role and features of their workplace. For instance, in the United States, Zimmerman[20] observed in the 1980s, the consequence of judicial isolation[21] is that judicial officers may have limited debriefing opportunities beyond their own collegiate setting.[22] As well as the impact of isolation in judicial practice, writers have also examined judges’ and magistrates’ exposure to, and engagement with, the details of acts of violence and sexual predation.[23] Finally, in Pennsylvania, a 2001 empirical study with over 1,000 judicial respondents, initiated by the judiciary, found that 52% of respondents had received a threatening communication of some kind, including physical assaults during the previous year.[24] A series of three studies by Monica Miller and colleagues[25] concluded, somewhat uncontroversially, that “stress likely affects judges in many ways”.[26] A 2020 US study adds a little more empirical data about events that contribute to traumatic impact. However, as indicated below, its response rate was very low.[27]

The UNSW Study

The UNSW study’s researchers, two academic lawyers, one psychology academic and a clinical psychologist, were aware of Carly Schrever’s excellent work on judicial well-being undertaken in association with the Judicial College of Victoria.[28] The Victorian study applies a range of psychological scales to evaluate the prevalence and severity of judicial stress and also interviewed judicial officers. The UNSW study has taken a different approach in various respects. For example, it sought judicial officers’ views and strategies on managing work-based distress and (like Schrever) employed the K10, a standardised scale which is widely used to measure non-specific psychological distress.[29] Further, while Schrever employed the Secondary Trauma Stress Scale (STSS),[30] the UNSW study used the Impact of Event Scale (IES-R) to measure the extent to which respondents experience psychological distress related to a specific stressful life event following a traumatic event.[31] The Impact of Event Scale items, like the STSS scale, broadly align with the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.[32]

Methodology of the UNSW Study

In mid-2019, 371 currently appointed and retired[33] NSW judicial officers were invited to participate in an online survey study of the frequency and impact of certain challenging circumstances in their work.[34]

The Judicial Commission of NSW supported the project in crucial ways, assisting with the construction, distribution and de-identification of the survey and facilitating arms-length engagement between judicial officers and researchers. The Commission also communicated with heads of jurisdictions in all levels of the NSW court structure and hosted communications with an advisory committee of nominees of each jurisdiction.[35] A small pilot evaluation by some judicial officers finessed the survey’s scope and detail. The survey responses were automatically de-identified before being released to the researchers, and additional checks were undertaken to remove inadvertent identification by respondents.

Survey responses and findings

Both the overall response rate of 205 out of 371 judicial officers (55.3%), and the Local Court response rate of 71.8% (125 of a total of 174 Local Court judicial officers) are very high, particularly in light of the survey’s demands on respondents’ time.[36] Notwithstanding lower response rates in the higher courts, the overall response rate provides a rich insight into NSW judicial officers’ experiences and views, particularly within the Local Court. That respondents took time to provide over 200 additional comments indicates that the subject matter is of considerable interest to respondents. These comments are a valuable source of information relevant to formulating effective practical responses to the study’s findings.

Demographic particulars
Demographic Variable N % Sample^
TOTAL number of respondents 205  
Supreme Court/Land and Environment Court 21 10
District Court 23 11
Local Court 125 61
Missing 36 17.6
Total years on the bench
0–5 51 24
6–10 48 23
11–15 34 17
16 or more 47 23
Missing 24 11.7
Male 110 54
Female 78 38
Missing 17 8.3
Location in last 12 months
Metropolitan 121 59
Regional 51 25
Remote 4 2
Missing 29 14.1
24-34 0 0
35-44 5 2
45-54 41 20
55-64 83 41
65 and over 47 23
Missing 29 14.1
Status of appointment
Current 173 84
Retired 11 5
Missing 21 10.2

^ = Not all categories were completed by all respondents. Note, percentages are rounded.

Note: Varying across categories, between 17 (8.3%) and 36 (17.6%) respondents did not provide a response to the questions on demographic details.

Distinction between trauma and stress

The survey drew a distinction between trauma and stress. Trauma was used to indicate the result of a deeply distressing event that shocks the organism and is not processed in the way other life events are processed.[37] Stress was used to mean the impact of ongoing demands in the ordinary course of a person’s life. Stressful events included a large workload, unfair allocation of work, poor administrative support, legal or other constraints on determinations, public expectations and negative public comment on the judiciary. We provided three categories of trauma events in the survey:

  • experience of threat: with 10 different types (for example, aggressive and threatening behaviour by parties, or others)

  • vilification:[38] including personal vilification in print, broadcast or social media and negative references of a personal nature from a higher court

  • vicarious trauma: that is, accounts of trauma in the lives of others (exposure to graphic material).

The survey presented a list of 15 events that might cause stressful or traumatic distress. Respondents were asked: How often did it happen?[39] How big a negative impact did it have?[40] Two aggregate scores gauged the overall level of distress by summing the scores for responses to the first question: prevalence of events and for the second question: impact of events.[41] These scores were called Potential Distress Experience (PDE) and Potential Distress Impacts (PDI), measuring perceived severity of impact. We also calculated subscores within these two measures for events that were related to traumatic distress (PDE-Trauma, PDI-Trauma), and those related to stress (PDE-Stress, PDI-Stress).

Eleven of the 15 potential distress events were reportedly experienced by more than 75% of the respondents.[42] Four of these experiences[43] were endorsed by over 90% of respondents; only four were endorsed by fewer than 75% (one of these by 74.9%). This indicates a very high level of exposure to events which have the potential to contribute to significant levels of traumatic stress. Impact scores were similarly spread with at least 40% of respondents reporting a more than “slight” impact from eight of the 15 events, with “excessive workload”, endorsed by 84.8% of respondents; exposure to graphic material endorsed by 54% of respondents and inadequate administrative support by just slightly fewer respondents (53.3%).

Variation by gender, location and jurisdiction

Both the Potential Distress Experience (PDE) and Potential Distress Impacts (PDI) scores varied by gender, location and jurisdiction, summarised below.

  • Perhaps the most striking finding is that Local Court judicial officers reported more stressful and traumatic events than those sitting in the higher courts. The Local Court respondents reported also suffering a greater impact from these events overall, both for stressful events and for trauma events.

  • Compared to judicial officers in metropolitan courts, those in regional locations reported experiencing events significantly more often (PDE) and reported a significantly greater impact of all events, of stressful events (PDI-Stress), and traumatic events (PDI-Trauma).

  • Men and women reported experiencing these events to a similar degree, but compared to men, women reported significantly greater impacts both overall and for trauma (PDI-Trauma).

  • There is a hint that retirement may be beneficial for judicial officers’ mental well-being, with slightly lower K10 scores reported by retired compared to serving judicial officers. However, the IES-R score (that is, a measure of PTSD symptomatology) shows a significant increase with more years of service as a judicial officer but, given the small number of retired judicial officers in our sample, this difference was not statistically significant.

Figures 1 and 2 below map the responses in the two psychological well-being scales (K10 and IES-R)[44] across the court hierarchy. IES-R is a 22-item self-report scale which measures PTSD symptoms. Scores can range from 0-88, with a score of 33 widely adopted as a likely indicator of PTSD. The K10 is a 10-item scale which is used to screen for psychological distress and possible mental illness. Scores can vary between 10 and 50, with a score of 30 or greater indicating the respondent is likely to be experiencing severe distress. A total of 124 respondents answered all items on the IES-R and 143 answered all K10 items, and of these respondents, some chose not to indicate the court they worked in. This resulted in small numbers of valid scores for the higher courts, so for the purposes of statistical analysis, these courts were combined to form one “Higher Court” category.

Figure 1 shows the distribution of responses applying the K10 scores by jurisdiction.

  • Almost 10% of respondents (14, 9.8%) scored 30 or higher on the K10 compared to 2.2% of the general Australian public. A score of 30 is widely accepted to indicate severe mental distress.

  • Overall, only 50 (35%) of judicial officers scored below 15 indicating they were likely to be well. This compares to 68% of the general population of Australia.

  • The mean K10 score for respondents (18.4) was significantly higher than the mean for the Australian population (14.2) which is shown by the lower line in Figure 1 below (t=7.42; df=128; p<.001).

  • Average K10 scores were slightly higher for the Local Court than for the higher courts (19.2 vs 17.0) but this difference was not statistically significant (t=1.57; df=127; p<.001). There were also no significant differences in K10 scores as a function of gender or location of the court, or jurisdiction.

Figure 2, below, shows the IES-R scores across the courts.[45]

  • 38 (30%) respondents scored high enough (score of 33) to suggest a probable PTSD diagnosis[46]

  • 27 (22%) had an IES-R score high enough (score of 37) to indicate possible suppression of normal immune system functioning[47]

  • Mean IES-R scores were significantly higher in Local Court respondents than in the higher courts (26.8 vs 17.2; t=2.71; df=113; p<.01).

The three trauma incident variables summarised


Across all court levels, 108 (59%) of current or retired judicial officers in the study reported experiencing commentary from various sources that they considered vilifying. The vast majority took no action and “suffered in silence”. In terms of public criticism, the pattern of responding to questions about vilification indicated that this was experienced at a marginally higher rate in the higher courts relative to the Local Court. More than a quarter of respondents identified print (58, 28%) and broadcast (54, 26%) media as sources of such vilification; and an additional 29 (14%) respondents pointed to such comment occurring in court. Other sources of unfair and distressing comment included online sources (31, 15%) and social media (33, 16%). Respondents offered detailed accounts in their additional comments in relation to “unfair” and “distressing” media vilification. One Local Court magistrate described “The ‘shock jocks’ (having) had a field day … Unfortunately, the judicial officer has to fend for themselves. There is no ‘time out’ from court”.


Overall, 125 (60.9%) of respondents indicated they had been subject to one or more type of threat, including threats to kill the respondent (47, 23%), their family (7, 4%), or their children (5, 2%), or to otherwise harm them (86, 42%), their family (22, 11%), children (10, 5%) or staff (16, 8%), to damage property (9, 4%), or threats in the form of offensive language (100, 49%) or gestures (84, 41%). Almost one quarter (46, 22%) of respondents reported being the recipients of at least four different types of threat. The experience of threats was more common for members of the Local Court than for the higher courts (mean of 2.6 vs 0.75 threat types).

One Local Court magistrate reported receiving “several serious threats on my life”.

Vicarious trauma

In this “cost of caring” category, respondents were asked to describe the “most distressing incident”. Common examples included sentencing proceedings and the consequences flowing from a determination (bail, AVO, etc) and evidence of fatal injuries. However, evidence of violent and degrading offending against children dominated, with more than half of respondents reporting exposure to violence (132, 64%), sexual violence (137, 67%) and degradation (102, 50%) of children. Their descriptions took the form of graphic images and evidence of brutal and sometimes fatal harm to young children. They were particularly raw when accompanied by chilling indifference from those whom one would have expected to intervene. For example, a Local Court magistrate recalled a case involving the violent abuse of a child victim which was ignored by neighbours despite being heard well beyond the home.

In another response, a judicial officer described repeated child sexual assaults on a young girl, requiring restorative surgery and followed by acts of callous indifference by the girl’s mother. The description concluded with, “I cried.” Other responses described similar (or worse) acts of brutality and tragedy. Overall, 66% of respondents reported experiencing negative effects from exposure to one or more of these forms of evidence, and respondents from the Local Court (79%) were significantly more likely than those in the higher courts (21%) to report experiencing negative effects from exposure to one or more of these forms of evidence (=6.2; df=1; p<.05).


This study found that judicial officers identified the main stressors as including large and/or unfairly allocated workload, poor administrative support, legal or other constraints on determinations, public expectations and negative public comment on the judiciary.[48]

The impact of these stressors is likely to be accentuated when combined with the range and frequency of distressing and traumatic events experienced by judicial officers. Given these experiences, it is perhaps unsurprising that many judicial officers experience significant levels of psychological distress (K10, Figure 1) and trauma-related symptoms (IES-R, Figure 2). These findings are alarming and require a response. While vicarious trauma may be unavoidable, it is not part of the judicial officers’ job to be vilified, threatened or placed in danger from threats, acts of aggression and poor security.

Our findings are broadly consistent with Schrever’s findings based on Victorian judicial officers’ experiences. Although our respondents reported a slightly higher mean K10 score (18.4 vs 16.6), the distribution of scores across the two studies is very similar. In the UNSW study, 54.5% of the judicial officers reported some degree of psychological distress (K10 scores >15), and 28.7% reported high or very high levels of psychological distress (K10 scores >21). The comparable figures from the Schrever study were 52.9% and 14.8% respectively.

In the UNSW study, judicial officers also reported very high levels of PTSD-related symptoms. The two studies’ use of different psychological instruments to measure slightly different constructs prevents direct comparison of respondents’ level of trauma symptoms. However, there are broad similarities. A total of 30% of the respondents in the NSW study had IES-R which placed them in a category in which full clinical assessment for the presence of PTSD is indicated, while Schrever reports that 30.4% of judicial officers returned a score on the STS Scale indicative of needing formal assessment for PTSD.

Unlike Schrever’s Victorian study, the NSW study compared judicial officers’ experiences across the court levels and across geographic locations. Compared to judges in the higher courts, magistrates[49] reported qualitatively and quantitatively different experiences (including significantly higher levels of trauma-related symptoms). Judicial officers in regional courts reported experiencing events significantly more often, and with a greater impact, than their metropolitan peers. It should be noted that the particularly high response rate from Local Court magistrates gives rise to confidence in the finding of high levels of distress among judicial officers in these courts. The lower response rates from the District, Supreme Court and Land and Environment Courts means that we cannot have quite the same degree of confidence about distress among these respondents.

We sincerely thank our respondents for taking the time to describe their experiences to us. We hope our reports of these experiences will contribute to reforms which can help protect the mental health of all judicial officers.

[1] The title, “Fragile bastion”, comes from Sir Ninian Stephen’s “Southey memorial lecture 1981: Judicial independence — a fragile bastion” (1982) 13 University of Melbourne Law Review 334.

[2] Published in (2021) 33(1) JOB 1, updated 2022. We wish to thank Una Doyle, Sarah Collins and Ryan Ahearn of the Judicial Commission of NSW for their incredible support of this project, and Carly Schrever for her invaluable assistance.

[3] Professor, Faculty of Law, UNSW.

[4] Professor, School of Psychology, UNSW.

[5] BSc Dip Clin Psychol PhD MAPS, Clinical Psychologist, Conjoint Senior Lecturer, UNSW.

[6] Professor, Faculty of Law, UNSW.

[7] K O’Sullivan, J Hunter, P Vines and R Kemp, “Traumatic stress in judicial officers — prevalence and impact”, pre-print available, accessed 9 June 2022.

[8] C Schrever, C Hulbert and T Sourdin, “The psychological impact of judicial work: Australia’s first empirical research measuring judicial stress and wellbeing” (2019) 28 JJA 141; Handbook for Judicial Officers, Judicial Commission of NSW, 2021. This compared judicial stress with that of lawyers and the general population; see also C Schrever, “Australia’s first research measuring judicial stress: what does it mean for judicial officers and the courts?” (2019) 31 JOB 41; Handbook for Judicial Officers, ibid.

[9] M Kirby, “Judicial stress” (1995) Australian Bar Review 1; see also M Kirby, “Judicial stress and judicial bullying”, Handbook for Judicial Officers, ibid; M McMurdo, “Should judges speak out?”, Judicial Conference of Australia, Uluru, April 2001 at www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/QldJSchol/2001/49.pdf, accessed 9 June 2022.

[10] D Heilpern, “Lifting the judicial veil – vicarious trauma, PTSD and the judiciary: a personal story”, address to the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, Sydney, 25 October 2017; Handbook for Judicial Officers, ibid.

[11] See also N Towell and A Cooper, “Struggling magistrates cry for help”, The Age, 2 April 2018 at, www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/struggling-magistrates-cry-for-help-20180401-p4z7bh.html, accessed 9 June 2022; P Wilmoth, “Loneliness, panic attack, insomnia: life for some on the judicial bench”, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 August 2018, at www.smh.com.au/national/loneliness-panic-attacks-insomnia-life-for-some-on-the-judicial-bench-20180731-p4zukq.html, accessed 9 June 2022; T Mills and A Cooper, “Overworked and burdened, death of a magistrate in a judiciary under pressure”, The Age, 7 August 2020, at www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/overworked-and-burdened-death-of-a-magistrate-in-a-judiciary-under-pressure-20200807-p55jpf.html, accessed 9 June 2022.

[12] J Doyle, “The well-tuned cymbal”, in H Cunningham (ed), Fragile bastion: judicial independence in the nineties and beyond, Education Monograph 1, Judicial Commission of NSW, 1997, p 39, at p 42.

[13] See for example, T Maroney and J Gross, “The ideal of the dispassionate judge: an emotion regulation perspective” (2014) 6 Emotion Review 142.

[14] See C Figley (ed), “Compassion fatigue: coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized” (1995) 23 Brunner/Mazel psychological stress series.

[15] J Chan, et al, “Lawyering stress and work culture: an Australian study” (2014) 37 UNSWLJ 1062; P Weir, et al, “Australian lawyers’ experience of exposure to traumatic material: a qualitative study” (2020) Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 1. See also Meritas, Australia & New Zealand Wellness Survey 2019, at www.swaab.com.au/assets/download/Meritas-Wellness-Survey-Report.pdf, accessed 9 June 2022.

[16] N Robertson, et al, “Vicarious traumatisation as a consequence of jury service” (2009) 49 Howard J of Criminal Law 1–12; M Lonergan, et al, “Prevalence and severity of trauma and stressor-related symptoms among jurors: a review” (2016) 47 Journal of Criminal Justice 51.

[17] J Lee, et al, “Duty-related trauma exposure and posttraumatic stress symptoms in professional firefighters” (2017) 30 Journal of Traumatic Stress 133.

[18] B Bride, “Prevalence of secondary traumatic stress among social workers” (2007) 52 Social Work 63.

[19] U Imo, “Burnout and psychiatric morbidity among doctors in the UK: a systematic literature review of prevalence and associated factors” (2017) 41 BJ Psych Bulletin 197; K Ahola and J Hakanen, “Job strain, burnout, and depressive symptoms: a prospective study among dentists” (2007) 104 Journal of Affective Disorders 103; C West, et al, “Interventions to prevent and reduce physician burnout: a systematic review and meta-analysis” (2016) 388 The Lancet 2272.

[20] I Zimmerman, “Stress: what it does to judges and how it can be lessened” (1981) 20 The Judges’ Journal, ABA, 5.

[21] I Zimmerman, “Isolation in the judicial career” (2000) Court Review 4.

[22] A Resnick, et al, “Surviving bench stress” (2011) 49 Family Court Review 610-617; I Zimmerman, ibid.

[23] Resnick, ibid.

[24] D Harris, et al, “Violence in the judicial workplace: one State’s experience” (2001) 576(1) The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 38.

[25] M Miller and J Richardson, “A model of causes and effects of judicial stress” (2006) 45 Judges’ Journal 20; D Flores, et al, “Judges’ perspectives on stress and safety in the courtroom: an exploratory study” (2008) 45 Court Review 76; M Miller, et al, “An examination of outcomes predicted by the model of judicial stress” (2018) 102 Judicature 50; M Miller, et al, “Judicial stress: the roles of gender and social support” (2018) 25 Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 602.

[26] M Miller, et al, “An examination of outcomes predicted by the model of judicial stress”, ibid, at 55.

[27] See D Swenson, et al, “Stress and resiliency in the US judiciary” (2020) Journal of the Professional Lawyer, ABA 1. For a comprehensive review of studies on judicial stress, see E Rossouw and S Rothmann, “Well-being of judges: a review of quantitative and qualitative studies” (2020) 46 SA Journal of Industrial Psychology 1.

[28] Note that at the time the UNSW study was conceived and the survey administered, we were not aware of Schrever’s methodology, or her findings. See C Schrever, et al, “The psychological impact of judicial work: Australia’s first empirical research measuring judicial stress and wellbeing”, above n 8. This compared judicial stress with that of lawyers and the general population; see also C Schrever, “Australia’s first research measuring judicial stress: what does it mean for judicial officers and the courts?”, above n 8.

[29] R Kessler et al, “Screening for serious mental illness in the general population” (2003) 60 Archives of General Psychiatry 184; G Andrews and T Slade, “Interpreting scores on the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10)” (2001) 25 Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 494.

[30] That is, “a 17-item, five-point scale measuring the frequency (1 = never; 5 = very often), over the past seven days, of intrusion, avoidance and arousal symptoms associated with the indirect exposure to traumatic events via one’s professional contact with traumatised individuals”: Schrever et al, “The psychological impact of judicial work: Australia’s first empirical research measuring judicial stress and wellbeing”, above n 8, p 152 and see B Bride et al, “Development and validation of the secondary traumatic stress scale” (2004) 14 Research on Social Work Practice 27.

[31] There are subscales for intrusion, avoidance and hyperarousal (the three clusters of PTSD symptoms): M Horowitz, et al, “Impact of event scale: a measure of subjective stress” (1979) 41 Psychosomatic Medicine 209; D Weiss and C Marmar, “The impact of event scale-revised” in J Wilson and T Keane (eds), Assessing psychological trauma and PTSD: a practitioner’s handbook, Guilford Press, 1997, at 399.

[32] The psychometric properties of the IES-R are well established: J Beck, et al, “The impact of event scale-revised: psychometric properties in a sample of motor vehicle accident survivors” (2008) 22 Journal of Anxiety Disorders 187. Although not designed to diagnose PTSD, IES-R cut-off scores have been widely adopted including 33 as cut-off for probable diagnosis of PTSD: M Creamer, et al, “Psychometric properties of the impact of event scale–revised” (2003) 41 Behaviour Research and Therapy 1489; and a cut-off of 37 as high enough to suppress normal functioning of the immune system: N Kawamura, et al, “Suppression of cellular immunity in men with a past history of posttraumatic stress disorder” (2001) 158 American Journal of Psychiatry 484.

[33] That is, those who had held a commission in NSW in the previous 10 years.

[34] Ethics approval was granted by the University of NSW: HC no 180920 UNSW.

[35] Two judges of the Supreme Court, one judge of the Land and Environment Court, one judge of the District Court, two magistrates from the Local Court, two judicial officers with a close association to the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation (now called “Minds Count”), and a retired judicial officer.

[36] Responses were sought for 428 potential variables using Likert scales and yes/no questions. These strong response rates are comparable (but not as high as) Schrever’s study (with response rates between 51% and 85%, averaging 67%), above, Schrever, “The psychological impact of judicial work: Australia’s first empirical research measuring judicial stress and wellbeingn 8. The study conducted in Pennsylvania at a 1999 trial judges meeting achieved a response rate of 1029/1112 (93%): D Harris, et al, above n 24. Compare however the US Judicial and Resiliency Survey from 2020, the first United States national picture of judicial stress. Its data reflects only 6% of the entire US judiciary. See D Swenson, et al, above, n 27.

[37] Trauma is defined in the DSM-5 as resulting from being “exposed to one or more event(s) that involved death or threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or threatened sexual violation”: APA, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edn, 2013.

[38] “Vilification is a rhetorical strategy that discredits adversaries as ungenuine and malevolent advocates”: M Vanderford, “Vilification and social movements: a case study of pro-life and pro-choice rhetoric” (1989) 75 Quarterly Journal of Speech 166.

[39] Using the Likert scale responses where 1 = never; 5 = constantly.

[40] Using the Likert scales responses where 1 = none; 5 = very significant.

[41] Applying the approach of J Lee et al, “Duty-related trauma exposure and posttraumatic stress symptoms in professional firefighters”, above n 17.

[42] The four events scored by less than 75% of respondents were:


threatening behaviour by others (not parties) (74.9%);


personal vilification in the media (67.6%);


bullying (38.9%), and


negative references of a personal nature from a higher court (28.3%).

[43] These were excessive volume of workload (98.9%); aggressive and threatening behaviour by parties (94.1%); exposure to graphic material (93.5%); and negative public comment on the judiciary (90.3%).

[44] Scores were only calculated for respondents who answered all items on the K10 (143 respondents) and IES-R (124 respondents) scales.

[45] D Weiss and C Marmar, “The impact of event scale-revised”, in J Wilson and T Keane (eds), Assessing psychological trauma and PTSD: a practitioner’s handbook, Guilford Press, 1997, p 399.

[46] See n 32, above.

[47] See n 32, above.

[48] See Gilham v Ministry of Justice [2019] UKSC 44 for an account of the negative impact of budget cuts on English judicial officers.

[49] See also the discussion of stress by magistrates in S Roach Anleu and K Mack, Performing judicial authority in the lower courts, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, pp 74–79.