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Judges speak out against law change


  • Judges lobby against law change

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    A Christchurch judge has spoken out against planned changes to the Family Court system, saying it will hurt children caught in custody disputes and lead to more courtroom violence. In a rare move, Judge Robert Murfitt appeared before a Parliamentary select committee last week on behalf of himself and the other six Christchurch family court judges.

    Judge Murfitt told the committee; “We appreciate that this is a matter of importance to all New Zealander's, so we've made our submission and await the outcome of the process,” .“We are concerned that without the benefit of the moderating effects of their lawyers there may well be an increase in violent behaviour by frustrated litigants.”

    The core issue is a Government plan to save money on the family court. Latest figures show spending has increased by 70 percent in the last six years, from $84 million to $142 million. Proposed changes would make families pay $900 for a disputes resolutions service, cut counselling hours and only bring in lawyers at the full hearing stage.

    However, the comments from the judiciary have offended several groups who provided the select committee with submissions opposed to the role played by lawyers and an important principle of the separation of state powers is that politicians do not interfere with judicial decisions, likewise the judges who interpret the law, do not create or determine the policies. The Ministry of Justice website notes that judicial officers are expected not to publicly comment on whether a policy is good or bad, or to have a view on what policy should be amended, or become law.

    A spokesman for the New Zealand Justice Forum had earlier provided evidence to the commiittee in Wellington that supported the proposition that the whole process should be made inquisitorial rather that adversarial, noting that lawyers would obviously be out of business without conflict. Many of the case histories provided to the select committee were concerned that it was primarily the interest of the legal profession to promote litigation rather than settle disputes where emotional content often overrides the rational decision making process.

    The Hon John Doyle AC, Chief Justice of South Australia, commented on the role of Judicial Independance and the separation of powers by saying that " on appointment a judge ceases any involvement in political life. It is well understood that any such activity must cease, so that there is no hint of a continuing link between the judge’s judicial work and the legislature or the executive government."

    • innocence project
      innocence project commented
      Editing a comment
      Is it me or does this judge look like a serial killer?

    • Corrigenda
      Corrigenda commented
      Editing a comment
      The biggest danger to justice in NZ is the judges themselves. I just read today where a dangerous fugitive on the run for nearly a year was finally caught with a carload of drugs, but disappeared again after the judge granted him bail??? Can you believe it??

    • golfa
      golfa commented
      Editing a comment
      Originally posted by Yoda
      If the judges are the biggest danger to justice in New Zealand.
      Then, what should be done?
      After all, they are paid from taxes; they should be accountable to the public.
      Shall we change the law so that judges will be elected and assessed annually?
      I'd support that.
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