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Supreme Court judges target of most complaints

23 August 2016

The annual report of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner for the year to 31 July 2016 shows that 221 of the 355 complaints received related to the Supreme Court.

The report says care is needed in interpreting the figures, as the Commmissioner must deal with every complaint made about the conduct of a Judge.

"That creates no difficulty when a person makes a complaint about a single Judge sitting, for example, in a District Court. The position is different when a person complains about several Judges comprising a panel of Judges at an appellate level as in the case of the Supreme Court," it says.

Of the 355 complaints about individual Judges, there were 187 actual complaints. The 221 complaints shown as having been made about Supreme Court Judges came from 13 individuals "of whom some have been declared vexatious litigants," the report notes. "It may also be reasonable to conclude that many of the complaints about Supreme Court Judges are driven by it being the final appellate Court."

Complaints received by Court, year to 31 July

Māori Land02051
Court Martial00000

A high proportion of complaints were dismissed or no further action was taken, with 86.4% of complaints in the 2015/16 year dismissed and no further action being taken in 10.8%.

Outcome of complaints finalised, year to 31 July

No further action4210.8%3310.6%2511.4%6222.5%9525.2%
Referred to Head 
of Bench section 17
Referred to Head
of Bench section 8B
Judicial Conduct Panel*00.0%00.0%00.0%00.0%00.0%
Total finalised389 310 219 276 377 

 *Recommendations for Judicial Conduct Panel (section 18).

 The report says the conduct asserted by complainants covered a wide range "including corruption, prejudice, bias, discourtesy, incapacity and incompetence".

photo of Alan Ritchie 
Judicial Conduct Commissioner Alan Ritchie. 

It says that most commonly, no substance is provided in support of such allegations and what often becomes clear on examination is a complainant's simple disagreement with a Judge's decision.

"Sometimes complainants are quite open about choosing to make a complaint to the Commissioner rather than pursuing an appeal or an application for judicial review. It is unsurprising, therefore, that large numbers of complaints are dismissed because they seek to have the Commissioner act contrary to section 8(2) [of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner and Judicial Conduct Panel Act 2004] by challenging or calling into question the legality or correctness of a judicial decision," the report says.

There were six referrals to Heads of Bench, with five to the Chief District Court Judge and one to the Principal Family Court Judge. The reasons for these are summarised:

  • A failure by a District Court Judge to adhere to appropriate standards of courtesy, patience and tolerance and a failure to treat a person appearing in the Court in a way which respected that person's dignity.
  • Behaviour inconsistent with the status of judicial office or which diminished the public's confidence in the Judge's integrity, impartiality or independence. 
  • A question mark over certain circumstances affecting a Judge leading to a suggestion that the Head of Bench should remind the particular Judge and Judges generally of the six special duties they all have in the maintenance of public confidence in the judiciary. 
  • Apparent overbearing and intimidating conduct toward a litigant. 
  • Unfairness in comments to a jury in a District Court trial. 
  • Behaviour falling short of the expectation of courtesy, respect and moderation.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019