New Zealand Law Society - Fall in judicial conduct complaints

Fall in judicial conduct complaints

This article is over 3 years old. More recent information on this subject may exist.

There was a 12% fall in complaints made to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner in the year to 31 July 2017, according to the Commissioner's annual report.

Of the 314 complaints about individual judges during the year, the number of actual complaints was 177.

"However, the 158 complaints shown as having been made about Supreme Court Judges came from only 13 individuals of whom some have been declared vexatious litigants," the report says.

It notes that in the 31 July 2017 year there were 2 referrals to Heads of Bench (down from 4 in the previous year) and no recommendations were made for appointment of a Judicial Conduct Panel. Since the Act commenced on 1 August 2005 only one recommendation has been made - in the year to 31 July 2010.

During the 31 July 2017 year, 330 complaints were finalised, 16% fewer than the previous year.

Complaints lodged with Judicial Conduct Commissioner, year to 31 July

Measure 2017 2016 2015
Received 314 355 313
Unfinalised from previous year 64 98 95
Total 378 453 408
No further action taken 56 42 33
Dismissed 269 336 267
Referred to Head of Bench (s17) 2 6 2
Referred to Head of Bench (s8B) 0 0 4
Recommendation for Judicial Conduct Panel 0 0 0
Withdrawn 3 5 4
Total finalised 330 389 310
Complaints not finalised 48 64 98
Total 378 453 408

The report says there has been no signficant change in the range of complaints received. Partiality, discourtesy, incapacity and incompetence along with corruption, conspiracy and other criminal acts have all been asserted.

"Most often, though, the preliminary examination required by the [Judicial Conduct Commissioner and Judicial Conduct Panel] Act [2004] has readily exposed not only a lack of evidence or substance but also that the complaint has arisen from a relatively straightforward disagreement with a Judge's decision," Judicial Conduct Commissioner Alan Ritchie says.

"Usually there is no option but to dismiss complaints like that because of the effect of section 8(2) under which the Commissioner is unable to challenge or call into question the legality or correctness of a judicial decision."

Both formal referrals to Head of Bench were to the Chief District Court Judge. The first related to a major purpose of the Act - to enhance public confidence in the judiciary. "This was a somewhat difficult situation relating to the development and testing of procedures and guidelines required by new legislative provisions," Mr Ritchie says.

The second arose from behaviour outside a courtroom "which may have diminished public confidence in the Judge's suitability for office".