Justice Susan Thomas has been appointed Chief High Court Judge, Attorney-General David Parker has announced.
She replaces Justice Geoffrey Venning who has resigned from the position but will remain a Judge of the HIgh Court, based in Auckland. Justice Venning’s resignation will take effect on 31 May 2020.
Susan Thomas graduated with a BA and LLB(Hons) from Auckland University in 1982 and practised as a solicitor with the Auckland firm of Holmden Horrocks before relocating to London the following year.
She was admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales, and spent almost 10 years as an in‑house counsel and as a solicitor and partner in a legal firm in London.
On her return to New Zealand in 1995 Justice Thomas joined MinterEllisonRuddWatts as a senior associate, and was admitted to the partnership the following year.
In 2005 she was appointed a District Court Judge. During her time as a District Court Judge she was involved in solution-focused judging and in 2012 started a Special Circumstances Court in Wellington to focus on the most challenged and marginalised offenders.
Justice Thomas was appointed to the High Court in 2014, sitting for three years in Auckland before relocating to Wellington where she is now based.
Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann says Justice Thomas will bring to the role of Chief High Court Judge broad knowledge of the court system as a whole and of the wider social context in which it operates.
She says Justice Thomas is also a skilled administrator: she chairs the Judicial Reference Group charged with working with the Ministry of Justice to plan for and oversee technological innovation within the courts. She has also taken a leadership role in work underway within the justice system to improve access to justice and to improve the support of the courts’ processes in the area of criminal justice.
Tributes to Justice Venning
David Parker has paid tribute to Justice Venning, who he says has stewarded the High Court very capably over the last five years.
“On behalf of the Government, I thank him for his service to the judiciary and community as a Head of Bench.”
Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann says Justice Venning’s calm, measured leadership and superb administrative abilities characterised his five years of service in the role. The Chief Justice said Justice Venning was an outstanding judge, and during his time as Chief High Court Judge he had decided some of New Zealand’s most important and challenging cases.
She says that after carrying the additional and heavy administrative and leadership responsibilities that come with the role of Chief High Court Judge for five years, Justice Venning has decided to take this step to refocus his energies on judging.
“Justice Venning’s effective leadership of the High Court, and his obvious intellectual strengths as a judge have earned him the respect and confidence of the High Court Bench and of the profession. I am pleased that the judge will be able to continue to serve his community through his on-going work as a High Court judge.”