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JUDGE (n.) A law student who marks his own papers - H.L. Mencken

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
- Abraham Lincoln

The Judge files contain background factual data on judges, as well as analysis which is more subjective in nature.  Where analysis and opinion are provided, they are the considered and sole opinion of the editor.  Information and news tips on judges can be sent to Spartan News Limited through various means listed on the 'Contact Us' page.  Information may be submitted anonymously but it would be very helpful if reference or source background can be supplied along with information.

KIWIS FIRST

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NEW ZEALAND SUPREME COURT SPINS ANOTHER FACT

2 August 2012
The absence of an independent bar or arm's length appellate courts in New Zealand allow the Supreme Court to increasingly make it up as it goes.  SEE THE LATEST CASE WHICH HAS SURFACED

 

GLAZEBROOK APPOINTED TO THE SUPREME COURT

31 July 2012
The New Zealand Supreme Court has added a further element of unpredictability with the appointment of Susan Glazebrook by Attorney General Chris Finlayson.  Glazebrook was one of the more emotional and erratic Court of Appeal judges but was also seen generally to be one of the more respectful of human rights.

High Court Justice Christine French was appointed to the Court of Appeal to fill the slot.

 

JUDGE LANCE CRIMINAL TRIAL

15 March 2010   
Former Deputy Judge of the Independent Police Complaints Authority Michael Lance QC will face trial in the North Shore District Court on 24 March 2010 for willful vandalism.  As first reported on kiwisfirst a year ago, Lance was witnessed "keying" the car of businessman Richard Cummins in front of the Judge's Browns Bay apartment by café patrons across the street.  Despite the trial being set for months, the half dozen witnesses were only subpoenaed this weekend. 

Further investigation of Judge Lance after his arrest uncovered a disturbing history of criminal conduct.  This included similar incidents of vandalism where the Judge was questioned but never charged, as well as the Judge throwing a trial in Rotorua of a lawyer charged with fraud and blackmail years earlier.  That lawyer, caught on tape trying to blackmail the detective prosecuting his drug-dealing client, turned out to be the business partner of the Judge's son Simon.  Without disclosing the relationship, Lance had himself appointed trial judge and travelled down from Auckland to preside.  In a brazen display of power, Lance J found the lawyer not guilty and then publicly castigated the police for prosecuting the lawyer.  The lawyer cannot be named because Judge Lance additionally gave him name suppression.

Judge Lance's perversion of the course of justice in the criminal trial of his son's law partner occurred when Supreme Court Judge John McGrath was Solicitor General and Police Complaints Authority Judge Lowell Goddard was Deputy Solicitor General.  Police hierarchy reported and detailed the corruption to the Solicitor General and deputy, but McGrath and Goddard concealed the evidence of Lance's criminal offending from the bench and dismissively stated at the time that prosecution of Judge Lance was "not in the public interest".   At least one high ranking Police inspector quit out of disillusionment.  The important news story was never reported by the NZ media. 

Subsequent Official Information Act requests for this evidence held by the Crown Law office have been stonewalled by claims the evidence is protected by legal privilege.  Appallingly, both Justice McGrath and Justice Goddard gave ringing endorsements to Judge Lance's subsequent promotion to Judge of the Independent Police Complaints Authority.  Judge Lance wasted no time claiming victory over the Police officials who had complained about his criminal conduct to no avail years earlier.

Years after McGrath and Goddard's cover-up of Judge Lance's criminal misconduct on the bench, Judge Lance successfully sued a radio talkbalk host Mark Bennett for defamation after the host called the Judge "idiotic". 

Judge Michael Lance is currently retired.  He is aggressively defending the charge but does not want a jury trial.  The trial should prove interesting even if the New Zealand media are afraid to report it.  BACK TO FRONT PAGE

 

SOLICITOR GENERAL CLAIMS HE IS VICTIM OF CONSPIRACY

15 September 2009
New Zealand Solicitor General David Collins is currently defending at least three unrelated complaints to the New Zealand Law Society for alleged legal misconduct.  One is by kiwisfirst editor Vince Siemer, in relation to representations by Mr Collins to the Auckland High Court in January 2008.  In brief, that complaint alleges Collins knowingly made false claims to initiate a contempt action that the www.kiwisfirst.com website was in breach of an interim injunction, despite his office conceding that the content was "fully compliant" with the injunction terms.  The complaint also alleges that he deliberately misled Parliament by misrepresenting to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee in August 2007 that the matter was before the Courts - and thereby off limits from a Parliamentary inquiry.

Mr Collins has responded by letter dated 3 September 2009 to Secretary of National Standards Committee Mary Ollivier that he considers he is the victim of a conspiracy by Mr Siemer and the other complainants.  Presumably, on this basis, he refused to address the substance of the complaint and supporting evidence in the form of a 6 September 2007 email indicating his office agreed months before that the website was not in breach the injunction.  Ironically Mr Collins used his response to threaten the Law Society with prosecution for contempt of Parliament if he considered the Law Society was "to collaterally challenge" the Select Committee's decision founded on what Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith had subsequently determined "may not have been correct".  Dr Smith's conclusion was reached before he became aware of the documentary evidence that David Collins was personally involved in the deception of the Committee. 

Collins elected to take a global position in his reply.  He appended a copy of the resultant High Court Judgment ordering Siemer to six months prison for failing to "unconditionally close down" this website as defence that his actions in seeking Mr Siemer's imprison were appropriate. back to front page

 

COURT ORDER SILENCES CORONER AND CONCEALS FARDELL SUICIDE FROM PUBLIC      

27 August 2007
Late in July 2007 it was revealed that Auckland High Court Justice Paul Heath ruled last December - more than a year after Robert Fardell QC (right) fell to his death from the 15 metre high Takapuna Head cliffs into the rocky surf at high tide - that the Auckland Coroner's findings and the evidence into the bizarre circumstances of Fardell's death would be largely suppressed.  This Court ruling by Heath J followed prominent barrister Harry Waalken QC obtaining a restraining order in July 2006 preventing the Coroner from releasing his written report while the family sought a judicial review designed to censure and obscure the Coroner's findings.  Unfortunately for Waalken, the cat had already been let out of the bag at a special inquest conducted at the Auckland Coroner's Court in June 2006.  This was when Auckland Coroner Dr. Murray Jamieson issued an oral report stating Mr. Fardell died from drowning, with the post-mortem examination revealing drowning was precipitated by massive injuries consistent with a fall immediately prior. 
 
With foul play and suicide the likely scenarios facing police officers responding to report of a lifeless body on the rocks, foul play must reasonably be ruled out simply on the response of police that day finding a middle-age man unexpectedly dead.  What is known is that the police and ambulance response to the call of a body found 6:30 pm 11 December 2005 as the tide receded was unusually brief for an untimely and, presumably, uncertain cause of death.  Although Mr. Fardell was 52 years old and in good health at the time he died, neither cordoning of the scene nor forensic analysis in-situ was apparently conducted.  The ambulance crew left shortly after inspecting the top of the cliff above where the body was found. Moreover, as Fardell was an extremely heavy-set man who additionally had to breach a fence to reach the edge of the cliff, it is highly unlikely that his fall could have been an accident or murder in this area active with people enjoying the early summer weekend.

Nonetheless, Barrister Waalken vehemently pressed the Coroner that suicide was not a finding the Coroner could legally make - or even mention.  While the Coroner seemed ultimately prepared to delicately acquiesce to Waalken's demands, Waalken's subsequent legal motions that the Coroner permanently seal the evidence and his finding were rejected outright by the Coroner as incompatible with the fundamental precept of transparent proceedings and justice.  It is this ruling by the Coroner that has now been overturned by Auckland High Court Justice Heath.

There has been some speculation, unproven, that Mr. Fardell had a life insurance policy, the death benefit from which may have been lost if the Coroner's findings indicated suicide.  However, it is more likely for reasons that will become apparent deeper in this story that, given the tremendous media exposure to the death, concerns were heightened within the judiciary that allowing the circumstances of the death to be made public would only increase the public's curiosity as to what drove Fardell to such self-destruction.  It was anticipated that attention into the deceased's sordid personal and professional life would then raise legitimate and troubling questions as to how such a person could reach the pinnacle of the legal profession and be next in line for a judicial appointment while those in authority had turned a blind eye to numerous disturbing complaints concerning his professional conduct for several years leading up to his death. 

In the days immediately following his death, the New Zealand Herald ran front page stories claiming that Mr. Fardell died of a heart attack while swimming - irresponsible news reporting easily dispelled by facts that were immediately available to any reporter interested in accuracy.  Other than the location of the body on rocks hundreds of meters from the nearest beach, Mr. Fardell was not dressed for a swim as he walked away from his house for the last time.  The inquest officer assigned to the case said the body was found with shorts and no shoes but that his experience was "articles of clothing quickly get separated from the body in the water".   And as any viewer of CSI can tell you, there are definitive forensic tests to quickly determine whether someone has suffered a fatal heart attack. 

The inquest officer, Paul Herman of the Takapuna Police, immediately realized that he was in over his head on this investigation.  The last person to talk to the deceased was Chris Morris, son of (now retired) High Court judge David Morris.  Chris Morris admitted to Herman that he had come to Fardell's home this Sunday afternoon to discuss pending legal matters with the deceased but declined to grant a formal interview or provide further detail.  Same with the widow.  Also, as the press was widely reporting that ten High Court judges had attended the funeral, the estate hired Barrister Harry Waalken QC, widely regarded as a legal Houdini on medical cases, to advance the family's position on the death - and stymie the investigation.   Faced with such powerful stonewalling Mr. Herman did not need to be a genius to identify that careers are made or lost on how someone might handle himself in an investigation where a litany of prominent lawyers and judges were not only expressing a keen interest in his approach to the investigation but were simultaneously speaking out effusively in the press about what a great man of integrity Mr. Fardell was.

Mr. Fardell undoubtedly had many fine qualities, but integrity was not one of them.  It didn't help that Mr. Herman quite quickly uncovered this darker side to the man.  Herman casually revealed to a private investigator early in his investigation that an Asian gang Fardell had a falling out with were phoning him in an attempt to gain information.  Within a month Herman was also informed that Fardell was being sued in the Auckland High Court for deceptive practices by former clients Paragon Oil Systems Limited and Vince and Jane Siemer, and that an application detailing allegations that Fardell three times perjured himself had been filed and served less than two weeks before his death.  Adding insult to a potentially career-killing injury for Fardell was the fact that Hugh Williams, a judge whom Fardell considered dim-witted and vain and, hence, was an irresistible butt of his jokes, was, as judge in the case, going out of his way to unduly protect Fardell.  Fardell was a proud man whose career and legitimate standing among his peers meant everything to him.  This graft from an unlikely ally whom he had been all too quick to dismiss as unprofessional was a tremendous blow to his ego as much as an inescapable symbol of poetic justice. 
 
Yet another former client, New Zealand inventor Hugh Price, was also embroiled in a legal battle against Fardell before he died.  Mr. Price had years earlier obtained a ruling from the Lay Observer that overruled the Law Society's dismissal of a formal complaint he had lodged against Mr. Fardell for deceptive practices and seeming incompetence.  Despite this ruling of the Lay Observer, the Law Society refused to act on the complaint.  Now, in December 2005, Mr. Price was again challenging Fardell in a current case for acting in a conflict of interest capacity.
 
Topping off all this was Fardell's close personal and business relationship with powerful Auckland insolvency practitioner Michael Stiassny, a relationship he would come to ruefully regret in the weeks before his death   This was due in large part to (what Fardell was obviously convinced to be) an intentional release of information by his former friend that helped expose Fardell's legal scams.  This information put Fardell's career at risk in addition to severely undermining his credibility.  Whether this was the straw in the mountain of straw that broke the camel's back is difficult to say.  However, given the significant betrayal by someone he had put so much trust in, it is not difficult to surmise this weighed heavily on Fardell as he solemnly walked to the precipice this otherwise sunny Sunday.   Ironically, as Stiassny was trustee of the Fardell family trust (Delfar Holdings Limited) at the time of his death Fardell could not escape his clutches even in death. 
 
In this pressure cooker where the powerful legal community's obituary contrasted so sharply with the unfolding facts of the man's real life, Officer Herman did the only thing he considered safe under the circumstances - he went to ground.  As the Coroner's representative, Officer Herman was responsible for publicizing the public inquest.  Despite the tremendous number of contacts he had received from media and financially interested parties, Officer Herman informed only the widow and Harry Waalken QC of the public inquest that he had hastily convened barely 2 months after the death.
 
Officer Herman would arrogantly respond later to those who felt slighted by his subterfuge regarding the public inquest that he was under no obligation to inform interested parties of the date or setting.  This was simply untrue.  The Coroner's Act 1988 specifically required him to notify in advance parties who may have an interest in the inquest.  In the winter of 2006 Judge Borrin issued a ruling on behalf of the Police Complaints Authority of New Zealand stating Herman was derelict in his obligations under the Act.  The Coroner had earlier been compelled to conduct a special inquest due to Herman's railroading of the public one.
 
The year 2006 saw significant changes in law for the Coroner's Office.  The 1988 Act was repealed in favour of the Coroner's Act 2006, which was passed into law in August 2006, and the establishment of the Coronial Services of New Zealand was formed on 1 July 2007.  Perhaps this chaos explains why the Coroner - having a year earlier been ready to issue his written inquest findings before a cease and desist order of the Court prevented him from doing so - released his report on 20 July 2007, seven months after Judge Heath finally gave him the approval to do so - sans the evidence and guts of the report.  Perhaps the Coroner's delay was a demonstration of conscious indignation at the Court imposed coverup. 
 
So it was that what started as a whitewash intended to be quickly disposed of in record time was eventually whitewashed by judicial order more than a year and a half after the fact.  And when one reads the Coroner's brief final report, it is obvious that Mr. Waalken earned his substantial fees on this one.  In legal speak, lawyers deceive by omission.  This is obvious in this case when one reads the Coroner's two page report.  This reporter's favorite line from that report is "No evidence was located to suggest that Mr. Fardell harboured any intention to commit suicide.  Indeed, his work on forthcoming cases suggested to the contrary".  It is as perverse as it is ironic that the Coroner could not write massive injuries from a fall directly contributed to the drowning but was encouraged to get into the highly speculative (let alone non-medical) realm of saying busy people do not have time to commit suicide.  Read Coroner's censured report.  
 
In obvious double-talk the new Coronial Services website states on its' front page, "The (new) Act was designed to enhance public confidence in the integrity and independence of the coronial system."  All too sadly, the net result has proven the opposite true.  BACK TO FRONT PAGE
 
 
 

 

 

 

JUDGE HUBBLE HONOURS HUBBARD AS 'OCCUPIER' OF CITY BUILDINGS

11 September 2007
In a ruling handed down by Auckland District Court Justice GV Hubble today, the Judge recognized the Mayor as 'occupier' of 'the whole of the Council Chambers and its buildings' for the intent and purpose of the Trespass Act 1980.  This means the Mayor has the absolute right in law, according to Judge Hubble, to order people removed from city buildings whose presence the Mayor decides to be objectional or disruptive - or if he has good reason to believe they might become so - so long as he does not act 'capriciously' in doing so. 

Judge Hubble's ruling found community activist Penny Bright guilty of crimimal trespass and discharged her without sentence, saying that she was well meaning and had suffered enough.  The case stems from a 23 November 2006 Council Meeting called under urgency to consider a new waterfront stadium in Auckland.   Hubbard had denied Ms. Bright speaking rights at the meeting.   Ms. Bright demonstrated her displeasure with the Mayor's refusal by displaying a 1 by 1.5 metre banner in the public gallery that read "Mayor Hubbard's DICKtatorship is a CEREAL matter - Don't Buy it".   The Mayor demanded she put the banner away but Ms. Bright refused; this refusal prompting the Mayor to temporarily adjourn the meeting while he summoned Police.  By the time Police came the banner was gone but, when Ms. Bright refused to leave the meeting, the Mayor had her arrested for trespassing.  The stadium proposal pushed by Hubbard eventually failed.  The case of criminal trespass against Ms. Bright was pursued by the Crown at the Mayor's urging. 

The mild-mannered Hubble appeared reticient in issuing his judgment.  His decision ran contrary to three previous District Court rulings that had favoured Ms. Bright in similar circumstances.  Still Hubble remarkably praised Ms. Bright and, in response to Ms. Bright submissions ahead of the sentencing, said he agreed with all the points she made.  The difference this time, according to the Judge, was the Mayor found the banner justifiably objectionable.   The Judge agreed.

With his judgment today Hubble also strayed further than previous District Court judges in ruling the Mayor was the rightful 'occupier' of the City building and, as such, was within his right to demand people being disruptive or guilty of objectionable conduct be cited for criminal trespass if they failed to leave when ordered to do so.  Paradoxically the Judge recognized the public's right to access public buildings and attend public meetings.  He therefore qualified his judgment by stating the Mayor, as occupier, had this right "provided that occupier is not acting capriciously or on the basis of racial or other prejudice".   Mayor Hubbard's actions, which included refusing Ms. Bright speaking rights on a number of previous and subsequent occasions, were apparently not deemed prejudicial by Judge Hubble due to His Honour's failure to mention this evidence in his judgment.  The Judge also did not seem to mind that neither the Police constable nor Auckland Council Service's Manager Peter Burden could recall whether they had specifically issued a trespass warning to Ms. Bright before arresting her.  The case included prosecution submissions and defense submissions  

Given the stigma of a criminal conviction, Ms. Bright said she is determined to appeal Judge Hubble's decision.  Back to front page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Zealand Judge files

Information on New Zealand Judges compiled from public and private sources, including all information submitted by the judges themselves

JUSTICE CHAMBERS, Robert Stanley 

 

 

 

Professional Data                  2010 Judge Survey Score (1-10)     Ranking (out of 60) 

Postion & Titles: QC
Judge of: Supreme Court, 2012 Previously on the Court of Appeal (2004) and a High Court judge in Auckland (1999)
Specializations and Professional Interests:

++Reported to have died in his sleep the night of 21 May 2013++  Questions surface over the circumstances, with the death not widely reported in New Zealand.

Interests were litigation, or anything that makes him appear important (he simply had a huge ego; which was widely known).

Professional Comments:

Judge Chamber's conservative leanings often left the "law" out of "law and order". 

Chambers J can be an alienating presence on the bench.  Is highly intellegent but because he fancies himself a legal scholar, this self-image has rankled a number of his colleagues. However, his energy and work-horse approach to the tedious tasks of writing legal opinions has gained him some favour from fellow judges on panels he shares. Highly opinionated and quick to dominate and instill his opinions by nature. He is virtually incapable of preventing his personal opinions from slanting his judgments. 

Justice Chambers is quite clever at tailoring the facts of a case to match his attitudes when writing judgments.  Quintessential Type A personality with a Napoleon complex. Bench behaviour can be audacious, as in the multiple drugging and sexual violation case of Richard Sturm, where Justice Chambers caused a mistrial by telling the jury that his interpretation of 'stupifying' was quite different than the prosecution and that the jury should rely upon his interpretation.  Loves gossip.  Will often seek to find out as much as he can about a case and the parties through the grapevine before hearing it. 

Background / Education: Graduated LLB (Hons) from the University of Auckland in 1975 and in 1978 gained a doctorate from the University of Oxford. He commenced practice as a barrister in 1981 and was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1992. He was appointed to the High Court in 1999, and to the Court of Appeal in January 2004. Lost out to William Young as President of the Court of Appeal in February 2006.  Left his wife several years ago for relationship property barrister Deborah Hollings of Bankside Chambers.
Degrees: LLB Auckland, 1975, Doctorate from Oxford, 1978
Admitted to the Bar: 1981
Company Involvements:

Team Investments Limited, Deborah Hollings Limited, indirect financial interest in Bankside Chambers

 

Personal Data

Born: 23 August 1953
New Zealand
Sex: Male
Married:

1977, Claire Marion Taylor

2nd wife -Deborah Hollings

Children: 2 (David Robert b.1984, Christopher James b.1988)
Interesting Relationships and Coincidences:

Chambers' current wife Deborah Hollings QC is considerably younger than him and a recent admission to Queen's Counsel.  Ms Hollings is a trust and family relationship lawyer with Bankside Chambers in Auckland.  Her website profile falsely claims she is the sole shareholder in Deborah Hollings Limited.  In truth Justice Chambers is a 50% shareholder.

Judge Chambers is closely aligned with Michael Stiassny, possibly the largest single litigator in New Zealand. He also has ties to the National Party and is a friend of current National president Peter Goodfellow (son of one of the wealthiest men in New Zealand). 

Judging from his past bench performance, Chambers J is willing to twist the law to assist his friends. Would have had assistance of a number of other powerful friends to get where he is today. Don't expect Chambers J to recuse himself when presented with obvious conflict of interests.

Miscellaneous: Chambers J lives in Remuera, Auckland

 

 

JUDGES PERSONAL DEBTS POSE THREAT TO JUSTICE

Dateline: 1 May 2007
Several of New Zealand's top judges are suffering personal debt pressures despite earning hundreds of thousands of dollars salary per year.  The risk that these pressures pose upon the Court they serve - and for a society reliant upon fair and equitable administration of justice - has become a serious concern that is being increasingly raised in private legal circles.  There are a number of reasons for this that will be detailed shortly but it should first be stated that no case has yet publicly surfaced of a judge issuing a ruling for his or her obvious financial gain.  Nonetheless, the concern is very real.  This concern is reinforced by formal complaints recently made against at least a couple judges for failing to disclose they had a conflict of interest in cases they ruled on.  In two such cases that Kiwisfirst became aware of, the complaints were straightaway rejected by the Head of the Bench as not worthy of investigation. 
 
Many make the commonsense argument that relying on the Head of the Bench to expose impropriety occurring in his Court is a fundamentally flawed method of oversight.  In 2004, the Labour government agreed.  It passed the Judicial Conduct Panel Act 2004 setting up the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner (JCC) with the expressed purpose of investigating complaints of misconduct against judges and recommending appointment of a Judicial Conduct Panel to independently investigate complaints where the JCC's preliminary investigation identifies a prima facie case exists.  One major problem is the Commissioner is a practicing New Zealand lawyer.  
 
Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite the JCC's mandate, not one of the 178 written complaints received so far has been deemed worthy of a recommendation for a Panel investigation.  The argument then is whether the oversight is genuine or, alternatively, necessary.  As one lawyer who wished to remain anonymous said, "It is difficult to argue this is meaningful oversight.  But perhaps we can take comfort that all our judges are infallible."
 
It must be noted that this was a difficult story to investigate given the palpable fear that permeates the legal profession on this issue.  More than a couple lawyers said judicial misconduct is a non-issue; it simply doesn't occur.  No lawyer would discuss judicial misconduct over the phone and most behaved as if the reporter had violated an unwritten rule in speaking the unspeakable.  But then, this is actually more than an unwritten rule.  Few members of the public realize that every lawyer in New Zealand has sworn an oath that they will put the interests of the Court ahead of even their clients.  And this is one oath that the Courts and the Law Society stringently enforce.  It is euphemistically referred to as 'maintaining the dignity and honour of the profession' and any lawyer who is perceived to have spoken or provided any information that undermines the Court or a judge's authority can lose their law license, regardless of the accuracy of the information.  Consequently, no lawyer would go on the record for this story.  The information herein is compiled from a number of sources.
 
What do judges earn and how could their debts adversely affect their rulings? 
In all, New Zealand has close to 200 full-time judges.  New Zealand's 130+ District Court judges make $243,000 per year, High Court judges make $309,000, Chief High Court Justice Tony Randerson makes $343,000 and Court of Appeal judges are paid $325,000 per year.  At the highest level, Supreme Court judges make $348,000 annually and Chief Justice Sian Elias receives $372,000.  While this is a lot of money, judges generally live a much different lifestyle than the ordinary New Zealander.  Their lifestyles often include first class travel, frequent overseas travel, five star hotels, expensive works of art, luxury holiday homes and automobiles, private schools for their children, domestic employees, $1,200 suits, $200 bottles of wine and all the other accoutrements deemed fitting of their high social status.  Court of Appeal Judge William Young, for example, is chauffered around town in a black town car and has aides carry his books.  The spoilt nature of all of this results in judges who are unable to cope unless they are waited on hand and foot.  And all this pampering is not cheap.  When you consider that judges fall into the 39% tax bracket and must fund their lifestyles with after tax dollars, it is not difficult to see how even judges making over $300,000 per year can get overextended financially.  The main difference is that, unlike the average Kiwi who gets into debt over his head, judges have people more than willing to help the judges out financially, from the banker who offers them below market mortgages to the former business partners who provide everything from paid holidays to paid staff.  A huge problem occurs when these benefactors expect the favour to be returned.
 
There is also the fact that judges are lawyers who have spent their adult lives manipulating the legal system on behalf of their clients (their profession actually trains them to not get hung up on moral issues of right and wrong), and now find themselves in positions of unprecedented power where they are virtually unaccountable for their actions, it is easy to imagine judges falling victim to their basest desires.  This is particularly the case in times of personal financial stress.  This danger is all the more pronounced in New Zealand given the unwarranted belief promoted by the judiciary that, because New Zealand is such a small country of only 4 million people, it is unreasonable to expect a judge to not have past ties to litigants and lawyers who appear before him or her.  It is this last scenario that ordinarily requires judges the world over to recuse themselves from hearing that case.  That is, everywhere but New Zealand.  It used to be the situation that at least a permanent record was made of proceedings in the High Court, thereby instilling some discipline into court proceedings, but this was abolished by the judges a few years ago.  Now, the only record of proceedings is what the judge chooses to write in the 'official' minutes and rulings.  Considering this, it is not surprising that the judge's version of courtroom events is often quite different to what the litigants recall.  As Lord Acton observed more than 100 years ago, "Power tends to corrupt.  Absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely."  It is as true today as it was then.
 
Court insiders have revealed that the culture of personal entitlement and cutting deals among judges is now so fully ingrained that new judicial appointees with the highest ideals and respect for their judicial oaths immediately recognize that tacit acceptance of judicial bias and deal making by fellow judges is minimally required to get along.  Too often in this environment it does not take long for the new judges to begin rationalizing that favouring their own mates does not undermine their duty to society.  One justice advocate calls this "the immaculate delusion", a stance anecdotally supported by research conducted for the Brain Drain feature that appeared on Kiwisfirst last month.  For that story, three New Zealanders spoken to reported they had recently moved their businesses to Australia, Indonesia and the United States respectively, all citing the unsavory favoritism of the old boys' network as a major reason for doing so. 
  
There is little question that even without such burdens of conscience judges have a stressful job.  The combination of sizeable caseloads, legal complexities, staff movements and the stress of getting it right cannot be underestimated.  Family and financial pressures only add to the mix.  True to human nature, many judges look for an escape.  In these circumstances, alcohol and prescription drugs provide solace to more than a few judges.  Gambling is increasingly a problem among judges, as it is with the public in general. 
 
All of which adds to the danger.  These self-destructive bents leave judges open to the potential for blackmail.  One only needs to recall the uproar that occurred when certain judges were found to be watching porn movies in their offices two years ago.  If anything, the judges learnt valuable lessons from this scandal, and it is not simply how potentially vulnerable they are to blackmail.  Resultantly they have become better at damage control.  Last year, a judge was exposed for changing the official records of a trial.  In that instance, the Court quickly closed ranks to suppress the details and prevent a public outcry.  It was one of the rare occasions where the story was actually reported by New Zealand newspapers.  However, the judge was not publicly named.
 
What can be done? 
Until lately, the governments' position has largely been to rely on each judge's personal commitment to live up to their noble pledge or, alternatively, rely upon the Head of Bench to discipline those who do not. But while this proved an inherently flawed method of instilling accountability, it is already obvious that the Judicial Conduct Panel Act 2004 has also not had any meaningful impact.  Perhaps it is the case earlier expressed that we can take comfort that all our judges are infallible.  Even if this were the case, would it not still be prudent to ensure this continues by implementing four simple safeguards?  First, to ensure accuracy and transparency, all court proceedings need to be recorded.  Second, judges who have been found to rule contrary to established law or to have ignored indisputable evidence in three cases should face a mandatory referral to the Attorney General for possible disciplinary action, with this action itself being made public.  Third, lawyers who do report judicial misconduct will be properly rewarded by the government, including preferential access to legal aid cases.  Finally, a truly independent complaints process must be set up to ensure a proper investigation into formal complaints made against judges, with adequate powers to remove judges found guilty of misconduct.  
 
Whether we realize it or not, we are all hugely dependent upon an honest and equitable judiciary.  A just society is what separates us from countries like Zimbabwe and Columbia, and it does not happen by accident.  It is the result of purposeful effort and vigilance.  It is too important to lose. #   Return to Front page

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