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Top judges speak out in defence of system


  • Judges defend justice system

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    In the wake of public criticism over recent poor court judgments, two of the country's top judges have fronted for their judicial colleagues to inform the public just how accountable they are. In a rare interview, with the New Zealand Herald , High Court chief judge Helen Winkelmann and District Court chief judge Jan-Marie Doogue told the newspaper about the effects personal comments had on judges.

    The article provided many quotes designed to instil public confidence and keep any need for the judicial watchman at bay. Justice Winkelmann said : "The requirements that judges work in public and that they provide reasons for their decisions provides the best means of accountability. Their decisions can be, and are, the subject of public comment and criticism." She also said in the above linked article that "The courts are open to the public and the media and are regularly subject to criticism."In that sense, I don't see how they could become more open. Criticism of judicial performance must be expected as part of how our open society works."

    Winkelmann's comments defending the role played by the judiciary follow recent decisions issued by her which contain no reasons and have been suppressed from the public. A current example concerns Kiwisfirst publisher Vince Siemer, who is before the Supreme Court on 15 November 2012, facing six weeks prison for contempt for reporting Winkelmann denied trial by jury to 18 Urewera accused in December 2010. This perverse ruling prohibiting publication of a decision of New Zealand Court was "rubber stamped" on the cover page with an order it be suppressed from the public.

    Not only was no reason ever given for the suppression, more than a year later the Court of Appeal concealed Winkelmann's reasons for denying trial by jury (potential jurors would "likely use improper reasoning processes") in upholding the conviction.

    It was ten years ago the Privy Council ruled in Taito v Q that New Zealand Court of Appeal judges were involved in systemic breaches of due process in denying criminal appeals. The only certain change this last decade is New Zealand no longer have the Privy Council to appeal to. Notably last year in Chapman v Atty General, the NZ Supreme Court exempted judges from enforced compliance to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 by a 3 to 2 vote.

    The myth judges are above corruption has resulted in a refusal to put common sense mechanisms in place at the very time the Supreme Court has claimed laws which hold judges accountable threaten their independence and therefore are unenforceable. One proposed solution for reform is based upon recognised international principles, "For genuine judicial accountability, three things are urgently required in New Zealand; an enforceable code of conduct, a register of judges' pecuniary interests and a requirement that court proceedings be recorded and parties have access to the transcript."

    Ideas like these create shivers in the cloistered back hallways of New Zealand's courts. While Justices Winkelmann and Doogue know what has been revealed here to be just the tip of the iceberg, they continue to insist publicly that the best scenario is to leave the judges to police themselves.

    • courtwatcher
      courtwatcher commented
      Editing a comment
      In the New Zealand judiciary, judges are promoted from the back of the sheep herd. Winkelmann is Chief Judge of the High Court of New Zealand simply because she is weak and malleable. No judge in New Zealand wants the position headed by a leader for fear the appointee might start cleaning up this hotbed of corruption.

    • flimflam
      flimflam commented
      Editing a comment
      In 2004 the family court in Wellington tried a transcript system. I had a hearing where this system was used, with a transcript available at the end of each day. Since that time I have been back in the family court with new applications regarding the same children. I have quoted the transcript and referred to it. This has enabled us to avoid going through the same pitiful mistakes which have adversely affected my children yet again. It has resulted in the same old claptrap rolled out by the other side, at tax payer expense being stymied before it has started. Reducing time, cost and providing accountability for parents and so called professionals. No wonder the transcript pilot system was not implemented but canned instead.
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