WHO judges the judges? This is a question that's raising serious concern here following a series of remarks by judges in rape trials - remarks so outrageous they have prompted the Trade Minister, Senator Peter Cook, to accuse some judges of hating women and draw up plans for an inquiry and a judge re-education programme. Australia made world headlines in February when it was revealed that South Australian Supreme Court Justice Derek Bollen had told a ''rape in marriage'' jury that ''a measure of rougher than usual handling'' was an acceptable way for a husband to persuade his wife to have sex. But the national outrage that it caused was just the beginning of what has become a string of derogatory remarks about rape victims and even louder calls for more women on the bench and re-education for judges. Early last month, Victorian Country Court Judge John Bland told a rape case in which the defendant pleaded guilty: ''It does happen, in the common experience of those who have been in the law as long as I have anyway, that 'no' often subsequently means 'yes'. '' That was followed by the revelation by a legal publishing firm studying transcripts that Victorian Supreme Court Justice Norman O'Bryan had passed a more lenient sentence on a man who bashed, raped and slit the throat of a 17-year-old schoolgirl because she was unconscious when he raped her. Being ''probably comatose'' meant the girl was ''not traumatised,'' he said - a view overturned on appeal. Women's, victims and community groups were outraged, as was the Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, who condemned that judge's remarks. But his government has refused to reinstate the inquiry into gender bias in the courts that was to have been held by the Victorian Law Reform Commission. The Commission was abolished after Mr Kennett's Government won power last October. But the fire these remarks ignited has refused to go out. In Melbourne, a local newspaper survey has revealed that three-quarters of those rape victims who replied had not reported the attack and had little faith in the state's judges. On May 30 the state's police will begin a three-day phone-in on unreported sexual assaults to try and gauge the extent of unreported cases and suggest counsellors to those in need. One of the state's 71 judges, speaking anonymously, has said nearly half the judiciary is prejudiced against women and predicted it would take at least five years for those prejudices to disappear as older judges retire. Some of those older judges were perplexed about the community outrage: ''Some of them see all feminists as radical, man-eating lesbians,'' he said. But the anger - and the prejudice - are not confined to Victoria. It was a Sydney case which has prompted plans for a Senate committee to review the selection of judges, in a nation of 106 Supreme Court judges where only three are women. Two of those three were only appointed in the past year. Of the 94 whose ages are available, 35 per cent are 60 or older and another 53 per cent are 50 to 60 years old. The Sydney case involved an appeal to increase the A$15,000 (HK$80,000) damages paid to a New Zealand woman who was raped by two men in 1988. The 66-year-old Judge John Sinclair refused to do so, saying the woman, who had been dumped by her boyfriend with no money, had contributed to her own rape by accepting a lift from three strangers. Neither could he accept she had suffered any substantial psychological effect because ''she continued to live with her boyfriend for more than two years after the incident and obviously continued to have intercourse with him.'' Judge Sinclair's comments led to the daubing of slogans on Sydney courts. One read: ''Rape - 18 months for men, life for women'' and another, ''how many years of law to understand the word no?'' Court sheriffs formed a human shield for the judge when he arrived at court the next morning. And in Canberra, Senator Cook expressed the view of many when he said of the spate of controversial remarks: ''(They are) views which have a tone of misogynism about them and views which ought to be taken as . . . entirely inappropriate for people on a bench making judicial judgements about human conduct over matters sexual.'' What can be done? The Victorian Council for Civil Liberties says judges need to be more informed of contemporary values. The Australian Institute of Judicial Administration is planning an A$100,000 two-year judicial education programme on gender bias - though there have been criticisms over the lack of plans to make judge re-education compulsory. In Queensland, judges are expected to be re-educated about violence against women, with the State Premier, Wayne Goss, warning the state would appeal against rulings on rape cases that were too lenient or inconsistent. And the Australian Law Reform Commission is to hold an inquiry into gender bias in Australian law. But, for many, a key issue is not only the attitudes of existing judges, but how new judges are chosen. Pat O'Shane, Australia's first Aboriginal magistrate, says women should not have to battle through male-dominated channels such as the Bar to become judges. Many highly experienced women solicitors would make ideal judges, she says. Justice Elizabeth Evatt of the Australian Law Reform Commission says there needs to be a shake-up in the way appointments are made if attitudes to women are to change. ''It should not just be left to the question of who knows whom,'' she says. The Federal Attorney-General, Michael Lavarch, has conceded there's a need for more women and migrants on the bench, looking to academics, solicitors and public servants as candidates. But in Victoria, where there is no female Supreme Court judge, the government says it would like to see one appointed, but that must be done on merit. One barrister has predicted that could take 100 years under the present selection system.