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Bar Association urges politicians to be cautious in criticising judges' decisions

21 June 2019

The New Zealand Bar Association is urging senior politicians to be cautious when it comes to publicly criticising decisions by the country’s judges.

The Association says upholding the rule of law and the independence of judges are fundamental principles that can be eroded by public statements made to be popular and without the benefit of all information.

The Bar Association, the industry body for New Zealand barristers, is responding to politician comments that a 2007 decision by Judge Joyce QC to grant name suppression to a fraudster who subsequently reoffended was wrong and should never have been made.

Joanne Sharp received name suppression after conviction for fraud offences against Tower Insurance and subsequently went on to defraud the Ministry of Transport under the name Joanne Harrison. Judge Dale Clarkson has now lifted the suppression order.

New Zealand Bar Association spokesperson Jonathan Eaton QC says debate about legal decisions is a good thing, but it needs to be informed.

“Politicians wading in with bald and hindsight assessments that a judge’s decision was wrong is not only unhelpful; it is quite unfair to the judge. Judges make decisions based on the application of facts as presented to established legal principles. In this case, Judge Joyce QC did exactly that. That years later, facts have changed, leading to a reconsideration of the earlier decision, does not in any sense mean the original decision was wrong,” Mr Eaton says.

Permanent suppression test "pretty high"

New Zealand Law Society Criminal Law Committee convenor Steve Bonnar QC has told Stuff that New Zealand's name suppression laws do not need to be changed.

"The test to get permanent name suppression is pretty high. Judges had to be satisfied that allowing publication would cause "extreme" hardship. Even if it was suppressed it could be appealed, by the defence, prosecution, or media," Steve Bonnar QC told Stuff.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019