The head of Oranga Tamariki and two senior judges intervened in a part-heard Family Court hearing into the future care of a five-year-old girl in Hawke’s Bay, earning a sharp rebuke from the presiding judge, who said their actions were inappropriate and any communication would be “a breach of judicial independence”.
Sir Wira Gardiner, who was the acting chief executive of Oranga Tamariki at the time, communicated with the Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu and the Principal Family Court Judge Jackie Moran, who serve as the Heads of Bench, to relay his concerns about the behaviour of Judge Peter Callinicos.
Judge Callinicos was hearing a case in the Family Court in Napier involving Oranga Tamariki staff who wanted to remove a young Māori girl from the Pākehā couple who had cared for her for the past three years, over concerns that they could not meet her cultural needs.
Sir Wira appeared to have been concerned about the way the judge questioned social workers during the first part of the hearing, held in March. He claimed that Judge Callinicos had “bullied” Oranga Tamariki staff giving evidence at the hearing, according to documents obtained by Stuff.
It is hard to understate how serious this is.
A court case was underway to the detriment of a government agency,. The acting head of the agency contacted the Chief DIstrict Court Judge to complain about the Judge, while the case was still underway.
Firstly it was quite wrong for the Acting CE of Oranga Tamariki to approach the Chief District Court Judge.
But that pales in comparison to the actions pf the Chief District Court Judge who actually tried to intervene in the case. That is behaviour unacceptable from the most junior judge, let alone the Chief District Court Judge.
The full nature and extent of the discussions is unknown. They involved meetings between the Heads of Bench and Oranga Tamariki in late April and early May, as well as a phone call and letters.
The Heads of Bench did not tell Judge Callinicos of the communications until later, according to court minutes.
When they contacted Judge Callinicos to convey the concerns, he reminded them that it was inappropriate for them to approach a presiding judge to discuss any aspect of a part-heard case. They should refrain from doing so as it was a breach of appropriate judicial independence and judicial conduct, he said.
This is incredible. The only response from the Chief District Court Judge should have been to tell OT that their approach was inappropriate any issues around the Judge’s handling of a current case should be raised in open court by lawyers, or later by way of appeal
But instead the CDCJ met with OT on multiple occasions, and tried to pressure the Judge to go easier on the OT staff.
Judge Callinicos, thankfully, did the right thing and resisted the pressure, and basically told off the CDCJ for breaching judicial independence.
The fact that the CDCJ could not work out for himself that his actions amounted to judicial misconduct must call into question whether he can continue is his role.
Either the Attorney-General should refer this issue to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, or the Commissioner should launch an investigation on his own initiative.