The Wellington branch of the NZ Law Society has voted to pursue a motion that would see an international jurist look into the conduct of NZ judges and judicial independence.
Wellington branch president Christopher Griggs said about 40-50 members met for the branch’s annual meeting on Wednesday evening and voted “by a significant majority” in favour of presenting two motions to the council of the NZ Law Society at its next meeting in October.
Both motions concerned a memorandum written by legal luminaries including Sir Geoffrey Palmer, several QCs and various law professors to address concerns raised in the “Moana” case.
I’m heartened to see Wellington lawyers at least think judicial independence is worth fighting for.
The conduct in question involved Family Court Judge Peter Callinicos being contacted by Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu and Principal Family Court Judge Jackie Moran in relation to the part-heard “Moana” case. They contacted Callinicos after being contacted by the then-chief executive of Oranga Tamariki, Sir Wira Gardiner who claimed Callinicos had “bullied” Oranga Tamariki staff.
The committee found the actions of the senior judges “highly unconventional” and said private meetings between Heads of Bench and a party to a current proceeding “undermines the separation of powers and independence of the judiciary” and “has the potential to undermine public confidence in the judicial system”.
You have a powerful party (the Government) in a court case which is going terribly badly for them having private meetings with the heads of bench to try and pressure the Judge to change how he manages the case. It doesn’t get much worse than that.
As a result of that vote, the Wellington branch will present its motion to the national body seeking the adoption and implementation of recommendations made in the memorandum, and to direct the president Jacque Lethbridge to write to the Attorney-General requesting him to advise the Governor General, Dame Cindy Kiro, “to appoint a current or retired senior jurist [a judge, lawyer or academic] from a common law jurisdiction outside of New Zealand, to inquire into, and if appropriate make recommendations upon, the matters raised in the Rule of Law Committee memorandum”.
That would be a great way forward. The heads of benches are compromised on this issue. The Chief Justice is compromised. A senior international jurist would be an excellent idea.