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Judicial Matters Bill passes into law

13 May 2004 Media Statement

Judicial Matters Bill passes into law

The Judicial Matters Bill, which sets out the process for complaints about judges' conduct and their investigation, was passed in Parliament today.

"This new law is aimed at enhancing public confidence in our judicial system and protecting the independence and integrity of our judges.

"For the first time, this law sets out the exact process to investigate matters that may lead to a dismissal.

"This process has never been clear because, fortunately, in New Zealand we are well-served by our judges. There have been few complaints, and it has never been necessary to remove a judge.

"But a hastily devised process formulated in a crisis could damage public confidence and risk judicial independence."

The new law also ensures judicial independence and allows judges to discharge their duties fearlessly, by maintaining their immunity from suit.

Among other issues dealt with by the new law, is the increase of the maximum number of High Court and District Court judges.

"These changes ensure the judiciary has adequate resources to administer justice for all New Zealanders."

"The question of appointing judges will be dealt with separately. On April 29, I released a discussion document to see if there is support for changes to our appointments system.

"I encourage all New Zealanders with an interest in this subject to make their views known to the Ministry of Justice."

A Judicial Conduct Commissioner

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

The commissioner will screen all complaints about the Judiciary, refer appropriate complaints to the Head of Bench, identify those serious matters 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 whether the matter justifies consideration of removal of the Judge from office.

As a result of submissions to the select committee that considered the Judicial Matters Bill, the panel will be free to investigate matters that come to its attention during investigations.

Other matters included in the Judicial Matters Act

Judges will be allowed to sit on a part-time basis while holding a standard judicial warrant. This 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 act increases the number of District Court Judges who may be appointed to 140, and the number of High Court Judges who may be appointed to 55.

The act 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.

It is also aimed encouraging continuous vigour and innovation in the role.

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.

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