Speedier court judgements

Audrey Young at NZ Herald reports:

Justice Minister Judith Collins is putting judges on notice that painfully slow delivery of reserve judgments will no longer be acceptable. …

Rather than imposing her own plan on what is a reasonable time, she wants each judicial sector to come up with a plan: the Employment Court, the Environment Court; the Maori Land Court; the District Court, the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

Cabinet has agreed to pass a law that will require the chief judges to set protocols for their courts about reserved decisions, including providing information on the progress of decisions and on the number of judgments outstanding beyond a reasonable time for delivery.

Judges would not necessarily be named and shamed, “not unless that is the protocol,” she said, “but I would say there is a lot of public appetite for knowing what is actually happening to people’s cases.”

Some courts are addressing the issue voluntarily, including the High Court, and the court that Ms Collins points to as the worst offender, the Employment Court.

But there will now be a statutory requirement for all courts to address it.

She was particularly concerned about delays in the Employment Court where the difference between hearings and judgments being issued can be up to two years.

Waiting two years for a decision is way beyond unacceptable. The approach proposed seems sensible – have each Court set their own protocols about the maximum expected time for a decision.

Ms Collins said some members of the bench might see her actions as interference with judicial independence.

“The concept of judicial independence is something I take very carefully. But my view is that judicial independence relates to what is in the judgment, not whether or not we have one.”

Bar Association president Stephen Mills QC said timeliness of judgments was “highly desirable”.

“The issue of whether that is best managed as it is now, internally by the heads of bench, or whether it is appropriate it be the subject of some kind of legislative direction is a matter the Bar Association will have a view [on] when it looks more closely at what the minister has in mind.”

Another useful change:

Another of Ms Collins’ measures will require a consistent approach by the courts to judicial conduct and what judges should and shouldn’t do in terms of appointments, activities outside work and when they should recuse themselves from cases.

Ms Collins acted as Attorney-General over the case of former Supreme Court judge Bill Wilson, who resigned while fighting allegations of misconduct for not recusing himself from a case involving a business associate.

The Judicature Modernisation and Other Matters Bill is expected to be introduced by the end of the year.

Sounds like a good piece of law reform.


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