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Enhancing Judicial Independence

Enhancing Judicial Independence

Public confidence in the judiciary and judicial independence are of fundamental importance in a democracy.

Margaret Wilson said the Labour Party, when elected in 1999, promised to make judicial appointments and removals more transparent.

“The Government has followed through on that commitment to revisit, update and consolidate the laws and procedures under which the judiciary are appointed and held accountable.”

In September 2002, Sir Geoffrey Palmer was asked to provide an overview on the current approach to the appointment, administration, servicing and termination of judicial appointments.

His report, Judicial Administration Issues, provides a measured analysis of the issues and has been made available to the public from today.

The Government proposes to establish a statutory process for the receipt of complaints about Judges, including the process for removing a Judge from office.

The removal of a Judge has never been necessary in this country, so the exact process leading to a dismissal has not been established.

The Government believes it desirable for this process to be set out before it is required, as a hastily devised process could damage public confidence and risk judicial independence.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer recommends the complaints process be managed by a new office to be known as the Judicial Conduct Commissioner.

The Government has agreed in principle, but has asked Ministry of Justice officials to develop the proposal further in consultation with the judiciary.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer has also recommended the establishment of a new Judicial Appointments and Liaison Office.

It is envisaged the office would handle recruitment, database building, consultation with stakeholders, interview processes, referee checking, and provide advice and recommendations to the Attorney-General.

These functions are currently carried out by several agencies.

The States Services Commission has been asked to lead a working group to examine the feasibility and implications of centralising these functions into a single office, including its establishment, location and funding.

The working group will comprise representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Department of Courts, Te Puni Kokiri, Crown Law Office, Treasury, Department of Labour and the Ministry of the Environment.

The Government has also agreed in principle to, in line with recommendations made, allow for part-time judges, accord all judges civil immunity, accord Masters of the High Court permanent tenure, have Environment Court judges appointed by the Attorney-General and to introduce an 8-year term for future Principal Judges of the Family Court and Youth Court.

The recommendation that the Judicial Appointments and Liaison Office also manage quasi-judicial appointments will not be taken up at this time, but could be revisited once the office is up and running.

Any law changes implementing these policy decisions will be contained in a Judicial Matters Bill that will, hopefully, be introduced to the house later this year.

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