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Judicial Matters Bill introduced

14 August 2003 Media Statement

Judicial Matters Bill introduced

The Judicial Matters Bill introduced today establishes a statutory process for the receipt of complaints about Judges’ conduct and for the investigation of complaints that raise a question of removing a Judge from office.

Associate Minister of Justice Margaret Wilson said the proposal addresses existing risks arising from the lack of a procedure to support a decision to remove a Judge and public perception of a lack of transparency in the judicial complaints process.

“Public confidence in the judiciary and judicial independence are fundamental in a democracy. Fortunately, there are few complaints and the removal of a Judge has never been necessary in this country. This Bill takes the precautionary step of setting processes out in law, so that the rules will be clear if the situation ever arises.”

“Under New Zealand law, a senior Judge can be removed from office by the Governor-General following an address from Parliament. This Bill does not change that, and it does not change the grounds on which a Judge could be removed. Instead it ensures such a difficult decision will be well supported.”

“This is a prudent reinforcement of our constitutional principles.”

In addition, the Judicial Matters Bill incorporates measures relating to judicial immunity, part-time service for Judges, the Principal Judges of the Family and Youth Courts and other administration matters.

The Bill will be referred to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee after its first reading.

A Judicial Conduct Commissioner

The Bill establishes a new office, the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, to manage the complaints process.

The Judicial Conduct Commissioner will screen all complaints about the Judiciary, refer appropriate complaints to the Head of Bench, identify those serious complaints that require a full inquiry and report to the Attorney-General recommending the appointment of a Judicial Conduct Panel.

If required, a Judicial Conduct Panel would carry out a full inquiry and report to the Attorney-General its recommendation on removal of the Judge from office.

The Attorney-General will have discretion to decide following receipt of the report of the Judicial Conduct Panel whether to initiate removal of a Judge.

Other proposals included in the Judicial Matters Bill

Judges will be allowed to sit on a part-time basis while holding a standard
Judicial warrant. This proposal will be subject to practical considerations including the needs of the Court and the region where the Judge sits.

All judges are to have the same comprehensive immunity from suit as High Court Judges. This change reflects the recommendations made by the Law Commission (“Report No 37 Crown Liability and Judicial Immunity: A Response to Baigent’s case and Harvey v Derrick.” 1997).

Masters are to have a new title, Associate Judge of the High Court, and are to have permanent tenure.

The Bill increases by 12 the number of District Court Judges who may be appointed and by eight the number of High Court Judges who may be appointed.

It changes the mechanism for determining Judge numbers in both the Judicature Act 1908 and District Courts Act 1947. The maximum number of Judges in both courts will be set by Order in Council confirmed by a resolution of the House of Representatives.

The Bill makes the roles of Principal Family Court and Principal Youth Court Judges fixed-term positions of eight years. This change will promote vigour of administrative leadership in these courts and will enable the development of a broader pool of Judges with leadership experience.

The Bill makes the Attorney-General responsible for providing advice to the Governor-General on the appointment of Environment Court Judges and Commissioners, following consultation with the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Maori Affairs.

It also allows for temporary Community Magistrates.

Background

The report Judicial Administration Issues provides the basis for the present proposals. This report, released in March, is available on the Beehive website.

As announced at that time, Cabinet made decisions on the two streams of work arising from the report:

- Proposals primarily related to judicial conduct, judicial immunity, part-time service for Judges, the Principal Judges of the Family and Youth Courts and other judicial administration matters. These are incorporated in the Judicial Matters Bill.

- Proposals for a Judicial Appointments and Liaison Office. This work is ongoing and is not included in the Judicial Matters Bill. Final decisions on these proposals are expected by the end of the year.


The Judicial Administration Issues report and appendices is available at:

http://www.beehive.govt.nz/wilson/judical/
judical_administration_issues_report.pdf

http://www.beehive.govt.nz/wilson/judical/
judical_administration_issues_appendicies.pdf

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