Editorials 3 May 2010

The Herald is on judicial transparency:

The legal profession, at least in its upper echelons, is so small that there are bound to be close and long-standing relationships between senior lawyers and judges which may create the appearance of conflicts of interest.

The possibilities have been amply demonstrated by the case of Supreme Court Justice Bill Wilson, who finds himself facing the Judicial Complaints Commissioner because, when he was a Court of Appeal judge, he failed to fully disclose the extent of his indebtedness to a lawyer appearing before him.

And that is the problem – the lack of disclosure. The debt, by itself, does not mean the Judge could not sit on the case, and be impartial. In fact Justice Wilson ruled against the lawyer’s clients in a number of cases.

But the matter does not end there because now the Judicial Complaints Commissioner must decide whether the judge’s conduct in failing to promptly and fully disclose the nature of the relationship needs to be referred to either the Chief Justice or the Attorney-General. Unfortunately, either course of action may also raise questions of the kind mentioned by the Supreme Court because Justice Wilson has had close associations with both office holders.

He and Mr Galbraith have been in a racehorse-owning partnership with Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias. On the other side of the equation, Justice Wilson and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson were partners at the law firm Bell Gully and Mr Finlayson is on record as calling him a friend. So whichever way this case may turn, it gives rise to the very kinds of doubts that the courts, quite rightly, are at pains to avoid.

The Attorney-General is friends, I am sure, with a large number of Judges. I think we have to be careful about not having unrealistic expectations that Judges and lawyers have no dealings with each other at all, except in court.

But whatever the outcome of this particular case, the courts should reconsider the old policy of secrecy and remoteness as a means of preserving confidence in the system generally. More openness in the form of a public register of judges’ pecuniary interests – much like that which applies to MPs – would be much more effective.

Compulsory listing of such things as business interests, partnerships, trusts and, importantly, debts would make any possible appearance of conflicts of interest immediately apparent and therefore defuse any controversy such as the one engulfing Justice Wilson before it had a chance to arise.

The idea of a register is worth considering.

The Press suggests the winner of the UK elections will inherit a poisoned chalice:

When the British deliver their electoral verdict on Thursday, the winning party will be presented with a poisoned chalice. The huge cuts the new government will have to make to spending ensure it will be hounded into deep unpopularity and be long branded as the Scrooge that ended a decade of prosperity.

The reality that the golden economy has been dead for two years and has been sustained by massive borrowing will not ease the predicament of the incoming administration. In the cause of weathering the economic storm, spending and borrowing was maintained; only now do the bills have to be paid.

Yet the Lib Dems and Labour keep insisting one should go on borrowing and spending more for a wee bit longer.

The Dominion Post marks World Press Freedom Day:

For most New Zealanders, today is just another working day to be endured before the next long weekend heaves into view. To journalists, however, it means more than that. May 3 is the annual date that Unesco has set aside as World Press Freedom Day, an occasion to celebrate the value of a free media.

It is a prize worth winning, but comes at a price. New Zealand journalists don’t get killed for doing their jobs in this country, but that is not true elsewhere. In 1975, Kiwi Gary Cunningham was one of five journalists murdered by Indonesian forces in East Timor wanting to prevent the world knowing of their invasion. And already this year, at least 12 journalists have been slain for following a vocation with attendant dangers.

Here, the risk normally involves being called a “little creep” by an angry prime minister, being ejected from the team bus by an irate sports coach, or being sued for defamation for – perhaps – wrongly criticising someone with a reputation to defend.


Thus it is harder in a modern democracy to persuade a cynical populace that to do away with a free press is to do enormous damage to the body politic and civic discourse. In the West, it is more common for the public to dismiss the work of reporters as sensationalism, trivia, and “lies”. Sometimes, they are right.

More usually, they are wrong. People often forget that everyone errs and that their errors are rarely exposed for others to judge. Chefs’ mistakes are buried in the rubbish; doctors’ mistakes are in a graveyard.

In the media business, mistakes can be of fact, emphasis or omission – and are usually inadvertent. Unlike the mistakes of others, however, journalists’ errors are published or broadcast for everyone to see, and – in the best of the breed – corrected publicly.

Alas the public correction is all too rare.

The ODT calls for no delay to the ETS:

Having once claimed to be a “follower” of our trading partners in such legislation, New Zealand, the critics claim, now looks likely to be an international leader – out on a limb with a feigned carbon tax that may in time come to be regarded as either innovative or foolish.

Businesses, for one, have not been slow to remind the Government of this risk, arguing that the policy will make it even more difficult to trade successfully with other countries which have yet to implement climate-change responses, or plan to defer them.

They have asked for New Zealand’s policies to be “aligned” with those of our major trading partners – a request that on the surface appears reasonable but is realistically impracticable. …

Yet, if the world has so much to lose from climate change, then it behoves countries to take whatever steps they can to minimise the effects – as a matter of urgency.

A global solution is obviously required and Western nations, including New Zealand, must lead it, since they are in the best possible position to afford the costs and provide the technology and innovation to achieve it.

Here the ODT is wrong. If China is not part of a deal to reduce emissions, then the efforts of the rest of the world will be futile. China by 2020, will be producing more greenhouse gas emissions than the rest of the world does today – even if they live up to their Copenhagen pledge.

For New Zealand to now delay further what has already been a slow, step-by-step procedure, would deny pragmatism in favour of the changing winds of political fortune.

I don’t support a change to the ETS legislation being done under urgency. If however there is no post Kyoto agreement, which includes commitments from China, then the rationale for an ETS is greatly reduced.

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