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Judges: Lambs At Home, Lions Abroad

Judges: Lambs At Home, Lions Abroad

ACT New Zealand Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks today welcomed the frankness of Chief Justice Sian Elias and her colleagues before a United Kingdom Parliamentary committee, regarding the Supreme Court's shortcomings.

"They tried to warn New Zealand's Justice Select Committee on the Supreme Court Bill - but in more guarded language. Their sensitive relationship with Government makes them look like lambs at home and lions abroad. We all sensed their concern about the potential for their staff and resources to be used as political reins on the independence of our most senior judges. But their language was so discreet, that the message was easily ignored by the Labour/Greens majority on our Committee," Mr Franks said.

"It is reassuring to learn that they share ACT's concern about the gravely bungled appointment process. Attorney-General Margaret Wilson tried to hold to the bitter end an opportunity to appoint judges to her liking. When she finally nominated the top judges in order of seniority from the Court of Appeal, we knew that common sense had prevailed in Cabinet. If only judges and lawyers in New Zealand had not been so scared of being outspoken, then that appointment mechanism would have been used earlier and fears allayed.

"The fact that our judges feel able to be more open about their concerns overseas, confirms ACT's main worry about the Supreme Court. That is, that many in this cosy society will not risk expressing opposition when it could harm their future relations and prospects. It is harder to be sure there are no conflicts of interest or inevitable associations that could influence a court. Who guards the guardians is one of the toughest questions for any country's constitution. Most fail. We lost history's gift of patently independent appeal guardians, to guard our guardians, when we lost access to the Privy Council," Mr Franks said.

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