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Complaints against judges show decline

20 August 2019

There were 158 complaints against 191 judges lodged with the Judicial Conduct Commissioner in the year to 31 July 2019.

This compared to 154 complaints against 223 judges lodged in the previous year, the Report of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner for the year to 31 July 2019 states.

Several judges can be involved in one proceeding and the 191 complaints about individual judges in the year to 31 July 2019 was down on the number of complaints received in the four previous years.

Judicial Conduct Commissioner Complaints and Resolution, year to 31 July
Unfinalised from previous year814864
No further action taken442956
Referred to Head of Bench (s17)872
Referred to Head of Bench (s8B)110
Recommendation for Judicial Conduct Panel000
Total finalised239190330
Total not finalised338148
Outcome of complaints

Of complaints where a decision was made in the 2018/19 year, 77.8% were dismissed and no further action was taken in 18.4%. This was very similar to the previous year, where 77.4% of complaints decided were dismissed and no further action was taken in 15.3%.

"The consistent experience since the commencement of the Act has been the significant numbers of complaints which invite a challenge to or a calling into question of the legality or correctness of decisions made by Judges," Judicial Conduct Commissioner Alan Ritchie says.

"Section 8(2) [of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner and Judicial Conduct Panel Act 2004] is clear that the Commissioner does not have that function and section 16(1)(a) requires a complaint to be dismissed if I am of the opinion that it is beyond my jurisdiction. In particular there is no power in my hands to alter any judicial decision and, of course, section 16(1)(f) requires complaints to be dismissed if they are about a judicial decision that is or was subject to a right of appeal or a right to apply for judicial review."

During the year there were eight formal referrals under section 17 to the Head of Bench. One of these was made to the Chief High Court Judge, five to the Chief District Court Judge and two the Chief Coroner.

"The referral to the Chief High Court Judge related to an insensitive and overbearing reaction to counsel introducing herself in an appropriate way in te reo Māori," the report says.

The referrals to the Chief District Court Judge related to:

  • An instance of apparent failure to dispose of work promptly as expected including by the Guidelines for Judicial Conduct;
  • An instance of overbearing behaviour inconsistent with expected standards of courtesy, patience and tolerance;
  • A question of whether a Judge should have taken steps to disclose a possible conflict of interest;
  • A question over the adequacy of guidance and training relating to mental health issues; and
  • A matter treated as a complaint in accordance with s12(3) relating to an instance of overbearing behaviour undermining the rights of a defendant in a criminal trial and the role of counsel.

The referrals to the Chief Coroner related to issues of delay and communication in the handling of a single inquest which attracted two complaints.

Complaints received by court, year to 31 July
Supreme Court1554158221177
Court of Appeal81018516
High Court3245353245
District Court8676574952
Family Court4331404316
Youth Court11000
Environment Court10010
Employment Court21010
Māori Land Court03102
Court Martial00000

Last updated on the 16th September 2019