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Fact check: number of judges has not decreased

Chris Finlayson - Shadow Attorney-General

15 May 2018

Fact check: number of judges has not decreased

It is wrong to suggest that the former Government had somehow created a crisis in the judiciary and that the number of District Court judges had decreased, Shadow Attorney General Chris Finlayson says

“I was disappointed, but not really surprised, to see this morning’s inaccurate commentary by Radio New Zealand.

“The news report said the number of District Court judges had decreased. That is false. The legislation increased the cap of District Court judges from 156 when it was introduced to 160 when it passed.

“The 23 pieces of legislation that made up the Judicature Modernisation Bill, passed by the previous National Government, made many important and progressive changes to the functioning of the judicial branch.

“It increased the transparency of our courts by requiring judges to publish information about reserved judgments, gave courts greater powers to deal with meritless proceedings to prevent time-wasting, and allowed courts and tribunals to adopt modern practices, such as digital documents and electronic case files.

“District Court judges and the Ministry of Justice also began work to determine how many more judges would be needed in the next few years. These would be permanent, not temporary appointments. This would enable rational decisions to be made about the future size of the judiciary in the District Court.

“For some years I had been concerned about the number of temporary appointments which raised questions about the independence of the judiciary from the executive. That is why the reforms removed the ability for temporary judges to be appointed.

“It is constitutionally wrong for a person to be given a short term judicial warrant lest it create the impression that judges must please the executive in order to obtain a permanent warrant. Judges must be independent, and be seen to be independent, from the day of their appointment.

“Acting judges can still be appointed so long as they are former judges and have not reached the age of 75. While I have similar concerns about too many acting judges, I felt this was a practical step to ensuring the judiciary could continue to do its important work whilst protecting the independence of our courts.

“This morning’s story was nothing more than a baseless beat up.”

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