New Zealand Law Society - Complaints against judges show decline

Complaints against judges show decline

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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

Complaints 2019 2018 2017
Received 191 223 314
Unfinalised from previous year 81 48 64
TOTAL 272 271 378
No further action taken 44 29 56
Dismissed 186 147 269
Referred to Head of Bench (s17) 8 7 2
Referred to Head of Bench (s8B) 1 1 0
Recommendation for Judicial Conduct Panel 0 0 0
Withdrawn 0 6 3
Total finalised 239 190 330
Total not finalised 33 81 48
TOTAL 272 271 378

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

Complaints 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015
Supreme Court 15 54 158 221 177
Court of Appeal 8 10 18 5 16
High Court 32 45 35 32 45
District Court 86 76 57 49 52
Family Court 43 31 40 43 16
Youth Court 1 1 0 0 0
Environment Court 1 0 0 1 0
Employment Court 2 1 0 1 0
Māori Land Court 0 3 1 0 2
Court Martial 0 0 0 0 0
Coroners 3 2 5 3 5
TOTAL 191 223 314 355 313