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New Zealand's Judiciary and Gender

11 November 2015 - By Geoff Adlam

The proportion of judges who are women in New Zealand puts us ahead of the British Isles, but a lower proportion of our judges are women compared to the other common law jurisdictions of Australia, Canada and the United States.

Data from the Courts of New Zealand website shows that 29.9% of New Zealand judges at 9 November 2015 were women. The information does not include Temporary Judges.

National Judiciary by Gender, 2015

JurisdictionWomenMen
Canada35.4%64.6%
Australia33.4%66.6%
United States33.0%67.0%
New Zealand29.9%70.1%
Ireland27.4%72.6%
England and Wales25.2%74.8%
Scotland22.5%77.5%


(Australia: 4 March 2015, AIJA Librarian using Court websites. Canada: 1 November 2015, Office of the Commissioner of Federal Judicial Affairs. United States: 22 October 2015, National Women's Law Center. Ireland: 16 October 2015, Association of Judges of Ireland. England and Wales: April 2015, Judicial Diversity Statistics 2015. Scotland: October 2015, Judiciary of Scotland.)

The information above is the total of all federal and state/provincial courts. When compared to individual Australian states and territories, New Zealand sits as follows:

Australian states and New Zealand judicial gender proportions

JurisdictionWomenMenTotal Judges
ACT54.5%45.5%11
Victoria36.9%63.1%225
New South Wales33.8%66.2%260
Northern Territory31.6%68.4%19
Queensland30.4%69.6%158
South Australia30.4%69.6%69
Tasmania30.0%70.0%20
New Zealand29.9%70.1%231
Western Australia28.0%72.0%100

 
New Zealand sits a bit higher when it comes to the gender makeup of the highest courts in each jurisdiction. Information from the European Commission shows that in 45 European countries the average proportion of women in the highest court is 36%, with 11 of the 45 countries having a higher proportion than New Zealand's 40%. The United Kingdom remains 45th, with 8.3% (one woman in the 12-strong Supreme Court).

Supreme Courts in selected jurisdictions, gender balance

JurisdictionWomenMen% Women
Romania951884.1%
Canada4544.4%
Australia3442.9%
New Zealand2340.0%
United States3633.3%
Ireland3730.0%
United Kingdom1118.3%
India1273.6% 


Taking a closer look at the make-up of New Zealand's judiciary, the information shows those judges who were listed as active. Temporary judges not shown on the website are not included.

New Zealand Judiciary by Court, Permanent Judges, 9 November 2015

CourtWomen% TotalMen% TotalTotal
Supreme240.0%360.0%5
Appeal330.0%770.0%10
High1328.9%3271.1%45
District4730.5%10769.5%154
Employment120.0%480.0%5
Maori Land325.0%975.0%12
      
Total6929.9%16270.1%231


Analysis shows that there was relatively little difference between the time men and women had been judges, with all male judges having spent an average of 10.4 years and women an average of 9.5 years in the judiciary (since first judicial appointment to any court). The average remained relatively close across each court:

 Average time as Judge in Years

CourtWomenMen
Supreme17.513.7
Appeal10.312.0
High6.67.9
District10.110.9
Employment3.09.0
Maori Land10.010.8
   
All9.510.4


While women tend to have spent less time as a judge than men overall, the proportion of men who are in their first five years as a judge is higher:

Time spent since First Appointment to Judiciary in Years

Years as JudgeWomen% WomenMen% MenTotal% Total
20 or more68.7%1710.5%239.9%
15 to 19811.6%2917.9%3716.0%
10 to 142029.0%3722.8%5724.7%
5 to 91927.5%3823.5%5724.7%
0 to 41623.2%4125.3%5724.7%


The Ministry of Justice information does not include judges who have been appointed or who are acting as temporary judges. Information on all New Zealand judges appointed since the start of 2012 (taken from the news releases made by the Attorney-General and including those appointed as temporary judges) shows that over nearly four years, 32.3% have been women. The figure for 2015 to date is most encouraging, with 40.9% of those appointed being women.

Judicial Appointments announced by Year

 2015 to date201420132012
CourtWomenMenWomenMenWomenMenWomenMen
Supreme   1 11 
Appeal11    1 
High23231312
District69261412
Employment   1 1  
Maori Land   1   1
Total9134122945
% in Year40.9%59.1%25.0%75.0%18.2%81.8%44.4%55.6%


While a far lower proportion of judges are women than men, there is one factor which appears to indicate a long-term redressing of the balance (assuming there is no gender bias in judicial appointments). The effect of section 6 of the Judicature Act 1908, section 5 of the District Courts Act 1947, section 200 of the Employment Relations Act 2000, and section 7 of Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993 is that only people who have held a practising certificate as a barrister or solicitor for at least seven years may be appointed to the judiciary.

New Zealand Law Society data shows that while women make up 47.5% of New Zealand-based lawyers holding practising certificates, they make up 43.0% of lawyers eligible for appointment to the judiciary. Two-thirds of women lawyers could be appointed judges; four-fifths of male lawyers could be:

New Zealand-based practising certificates at 9 November 2015

GenderTotalHeld for 7 years or more% Total held for 7 years or more
Women5688384467.6%
Men6298509180.8%


The proportion of lawyers who are women continues to increase, and is now expected to reach 50% by 2018. The seven-year lag means it will be a couple of years after this that there are equal numbers of women and men eligible for judicial appointment.

Details of the year all District Court Judges were admitted as barristers and solicitors are not available. However, High Court Judges who were appointed directly to the High Court had been an average of 28.9 years in practice before their appointment. There was a noticeable difference in the average time before appointment by gender. Women had been in practice for an average of 23.7 years before their appointment, compared to an average of 32 years for men.

While the base is relatively low, analysis appears to indicate that men who are Queen's Counsel are more likely to be appointed to the judiciary than women who are QCs.

Queen's Counsel appointed permanently to the Judiciary

CourtFemale% TotalMale% TotalAll% All
Supreme150.0%266.7%360.0%
Appeal00.0%685.7%660.0%
High430.8%1443.8%1840.0%
District12.1%10.9%21.3%
Employment00.0%125.0%120.0%
Maori Land00.0%00.0%00.0%
       
Total68.7%2414.8%3013.0%


There also appears to be a noticeable difference in the types of warrant given to women who are District Court Judges, with almost half of the women who are District Court Judges holding a Family warrant - compared to 29% of men. Men also appear more likely to hold a jury warrant.

District Court Warrants held by permanent Judges

WarrantWomen% WomenMen% Men
Civil817.0%2422.4%
Environment48.5%1110.3%
Family2246.8%3129.0%
LVT00.0%1312.1%
Youth1429.8%3734.6%
Jury2451.1%7166.4%

 
Census 2013 and the judiciary

Customised information provided to the New Zealand Law Society by Statistics New Zealand from the 2013 Census has information on people who identified themselves as members of the judiciary. While the information is likely to include some people who are not members of the judiciary analysed above (the 60 "Barristers" aged 15 to 19 are quite possibly "Baristas") it shows some interesting variations between female and male judges.

Marital status of Judges, Census 2013 (Click here for Lawyers)

GenderMarried or civil union
(not separated)
SeparatedDivorced or
Dissolved
WidowedNever
Married
Women63.6%6.1%9.1%3.0%18.2%
Men88.6%4.3%4.3%1.4%2.9%
All81.4%3.9%5.9%1.0%7.8%

 
Smoking habits of Judges, Census 2013
(Click here for Lawyers)

GenderRegular SmokerEx-SmokerNever Smoked RegularlyNEI
Women3.0%21.2%75.8%0.0%
Men1.4%30.0%64.3%2.9%
All2.9%27.5%68.6%2.0%

 
 Religion of Judges, Census 2013 (Click here for Lawyers - page 18)

GenderAnglicanCatholicPresbyterianChristianOtherNo ReligionObject
Women27.3%12.1%9.1%6.1%6.0%36.4%3.0%
Men28.6%22.9%7.1%5.7%7.1%28.6%0.0%
All27.2%19.4%7.8%4.9%8.7%31.0%1.0%

 
Hours worked in previous week by Judges, Census 2013
(Click here for Lawyers - page 18)

Gender0 to 2930 to 3940 to 4950 to 5960+NEI
Women15.2%6.1%27.3%30.3%15.2%3.0%
Men7.1%4.3%37.1%28.6%21.4%1.4%
All10.7%4.9%35.0%29.1%18.2%1.9%


Where not stated, information is at 9 November 2015.

Last updated on the 13th November 2015