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N.Y., Australia courts enter unique agreement

New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Chief Justice James Spigelman of the Supreme Court of New South Wales are establishing a system for reciprocal cooperation and consultation between their respective judicial systems.

They signed a memorandum of understanding Thursday, believed to be the first of its kind between a U.S. and foreign court system.

Under the new agreement, if the parties consent a substantial legal issue arising in a matter pending before the Supreme Court of New South Wales, which involves the law of New York state, can now be determined with the assistance of judges from New York, and vice versa.

Chief Judge Lippman will establish a panel of five volunteer judges to offer responses to substantial questions of New York law referred by the Australian court. The panel will include one judge from the New York State Court of Appeals and one justice each from the four Appellate Divisions.

The judges will serve as referees and work in three-member panels to jointly answer questions of law referred by the Australian court, which will have the discretion to adopt, modify or reject the referees’ report in whole or in part. The Australian court will provide similar assistance on a reciprocal basis with regard to questions of Australian law.

The New York judges who volunteer to participate will do so on an uncompensated basis in order to promote comity and cooperation between the two systems. Because they will be acting outside of the scope of their official court duties, their reports will not be considered official or binding articulations of New York law and will not have precedential authority.

The New South Wales Supreme Court entered a similar similar arrangement in June with a supreme court in Singapore.

The announcement coincided with a conference in Sydney, Australia, “New York to Sydney: Navigating Currents in International Law,” co-sponsored by the International Section of the New York State Bar Association. Chief Judge Lippman was scheduled to participate in the conference via webcast.