What if I complain directly to the Head of Bench or the Judge instead of to the Commissioner?
The Head of Bench will forward any complaint concerning the conduct of a Judge to the Commissioner.
Why is there both a Judicial Conduct Commissioner and a Judicial Complaints Lay Observer?
The Judicial Conduct Commissioner is part of the statutory complaints process. The Judicial Complaints Lay Observer is a separate office that deals with the way the Head of Bench and the Judge handle a complaint in terms of the voluntary judicial complaints process.
What happens if my complaint is against the Head of Bench?
The Chief Justice is responsible for complaints made against the President of the Court of Appeal, Chief High Court Judge, Chief Judge of the Employment Court, Chief District Court Judge and Chief Judge of the Maori Land Court.
The Chief District Court Judge is responsible for complaints made against the Principal Family Court Judge, Principal Youth Court Judge and Principal Environment Court Judge.
The Attorney-General is responsible for complaints made against the Chief Justice.
What is the role of Judges?
Judges are members of the New Zealand Judiciary, which is an independent branch of government. The two other branches are the Executive and the Legislature (Parliament).
The Judge's role is to apply the law to every case that comes before the court. Judges do not just act in accordance with the law set down by Parliament-they also develop law. This includes interpreting the meaning of legislation passed by Parliament.
It is important that political or other pressures do not influence Judges when they are making decisions in individual cases, otherwise the integrity of the justice system would be undermined. There are a number of mechanisms in place that help to protect Judges' independence, such as permanent tenure and salary protection.
Judicial immunity is another protection for Judges. This is a protection given to members of the Judiciary, meaning they cannot be sued for actions that are performed in their judicial capacity. Judges can therefore make the best decisions on the cases before them, without interference or fear of adverse consequences to themselves.
If the decisions of a Judge result in negative or unfair consequences appeal and review rights are available.
Who are Judges accountable to?
Judges are accountable mainly through the appeal process and public scrutiny. They are not answerable for their decisions to any superior authority, nor are they accountable in the same way as, for example, Ministers are to Parliament.
This is because Judges have to be independent, so that the justice system will be impartial. To do their job effectively, however, Judges must have the confidence of the public. This means that although Judges do not have to have public support for everything they do, the public must have confidence in their honesty and integrity, and in the impartiality, consistency and fairness of their decisions.
How do Judges maintain public confidence?
There are a number of ways to ensure that Judges keep the confidence of the public in New Zealand. These are:
- an appointment process that aims to choose only the best people to be Judges;
- ongoing education for Judges;
- public scrutiny through open justice; and
- appeals and judicial review.
Great care is taken to make sure that everyone who becomes a Judge is suitable to hold that office, given its constitutional significance. New Judges are sought through advertisements and/or getting nominations from a range of people and agencies. Applicants have to hold legal qualifications, have been a barrister or solicitor for at least seven years, and have a reputation for honesty, integrity, impartiality and good judgment.
The Governor-General generally appoints all Judges, in most cases on the advice of the Attorney-General. There are two exceptions. First, Maori Land Court Judges are appointed on the advice of the Minister of Maori Affairs. Second, the Governor-General takes the advice of the Prime Minister when appointing the Chief Justice. The final recommendations for appointment are made only after an extensive consultation process.
More information about the appointment of Judges is available from the Attorney-General's Judicial Appointments Unit. The Unit's contact details are:
The Judicial Appointments Officer
The Attorney-General's Judicial Appointments Unit
PO Box 280
Telephone: 04 473 3890 or 0800 473 389
Facsimile: 04 473 3891
Judges get ongoing education from the Institute of Judicial Studies. Further training helps Judges maintain and enhance the quality of their decisions and keeps them up to date on issues they deal with.
Judges do their work in public and have to give reasons for their decisions. Most court hearings are open to the public except some cases that are sensitive and confidential. This public scrutiny is a check on the conduct of Judges. Because Judges' decisions are published, their reasoning is open to further scrutiny and professional criticism in the media and specialist legal journals.
Appeal and Review
Judges are accountable because their decisions are open to appeal and review. If a Judge has made an error in law, or misinterpreted the facts in a case, then it is possible to appeal. Every decision a Judge makes can be appealed, except for the decisions made by a final appeal court, such as the Supreme Court.
What are the three branches of Government?
The government in New Zealand is made up of three separate branches, or parts: the Legislature; the Executive; and the Judiciary.
The Legislature (Parliament) is made up of the Head of State of New Zealand (Queen Elizabeth II) represented by the Governor-General and all elected Members of Parliament, or MPs. Parliament makes law by considering, debating and voting on Bills introduced to the House. When a majority of MPs support a Bill, and the Governor-General assents, it becomes an Act (or law).
The Executive includes Cabinet Ministers and all government departments. The Executive makes decisions on policy and legislative proposals that may become Bills to be considered by Parliament. The Executive also carries out policy decisions and enforces the law.
The Judiciary is made up of Judges. As mentioned earlier, Judges interpret and apply the law, as well as develop it.
Why are there three branches of Government?
Government is divided into three branches so that all the power is not held by any one person or group. This 'separation of powers' is a fundamental principle of our democratic government.
For the system to work, Judges in particular have to make independent decisions that are free from direction and influence by the other branches.