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Special report: Judging the judges

#1 User is offline   hukildaspida 

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Posted 16 April 2013 - 05:31 PM

Please click on the link to read the rest of the series about Judging the judges

Special report: Judging the judges
By David Fisher @@DFisherJourno Email David
5:30 AM Monday Apr 15, 2013

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This week, we speak to judges, lawmakers and victims about our judiciary and what needs to change. Today, Judge Jan-Marie Doogue talks about the drive for transparency.

Judge Jan-Marie Doogue says the fact the judiciary applies the law but does not make the law is widely misunderstood by the general public. Photo / Dean Purcell

Judges are pledging greater openness and better information for the public about the administration of justice in New Zealand to meet a rising clamour for accountability.

But chief district court judge Jan-Marie Doogue said the drive to expose the workings of justice was being frustrated by a heavy workload, a lack of money and an under-developed courts infrastructure.

Judge Doogue, who became a judge 20 years ago, leads the district court judiciary of 123 judges - Australasia's largest.

She was interviewed with others for a Herald series after a poll last month found 53 per cent of those polled had high confidence in the judiciary while 38 per cent had "big concerns".

In a rare interview, Judge Doogue pledged greater openness from the country's busiest court but also spoke of an apparent public misconception over accountability. She said concerns over the judiciary should be seen in context with international rankings endorsing it as among the world's best.

She said there was a lack of education about the three arms of government and the role the judiciary has in that.

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The three branches of state in New Zealand are Parliament and its MPs, the executive with its ministers and the judiciary.

Judge Doogue would like to see "civics" classes in schools - lessons on the responsibilities and rights of citizens and their relationship with the state. She said such education would help the understanding judges did not have a "blank page".

"The public need to understand that about the judiciary. We apply the law. We don't make the law. Some of the debate around this appears to be there are no restrictions on what we do. There are serious restrictions on what we do.

"A properly informed public would understand it is the legislature that makes the laws. If they say, as they do in the Sentencing Act, you must impose the least restrictive sentence - that's not judges being soft on crime, that is judges doing what the legislature has told them to do."

She said media reporting sensationalised some cases and decisions without reporting full details. That meant "the public are ill-informed or malinformed about the judges' role. So they don't see us as accountable. Whereas if they were educated through adequate means as they grew up and the media were presenting a balanced argument, they would know there are many forms of accountability.

"If we do have serious levels of lack of public confidence in our judiciary that has the potential to destabilise what is in effect a very healthy democracy.

"We're one of the best democracies in the world with some of the biggest challenges of any democracy in the world in terms of challenges of indigenous disaffection from colonialism and yet we box on as a nation and do very well.

"But if we do not have law and order and we do not have confidence in that arm of government ... then we will all ... suffer because of that."

She said a District Court annual report being developed would meet an "obligation" to have public "health checks" of the system which would report the volume and speed of case-flow through courts, along with the percentage of cases overturned on appeal.

The judiciary has hired a "community engagement" manager. As part of the public engagement, a district court judge is today running a class at Whangarei Boys High School.

It is the first in a new programme which will put judges in schools and before community groups to build knowledge and understanding of the judiciary and its role. The manager also connected with media, recently raising concerns in some newsrooms about court reports.

Judge Doogue said the judiciary was accountable through open courts and decisions which had to be stated clearly.

However, the desire for good quality data to report the functions of the court was hampered by moribund internal systems and a lack of money to put improvements in place.

She said the judiciary had been told there was not enough money to make changes which included having district court judgments available online - particularly sentences in high-profile cases.

She said the data which would be used to show accountability also needed investment. Information showing how overdue cases were was 50 per cent to 65 per cent inaccurate, she said.

"The ministry has to find the money to fund accurate data, because they acknowledge their data is not accurate - that's a big thing to turn around."

She said cost-cutting across government was also hitting as the district courts expanded the type of work they took on. Work was under way with the Ministry of Justice to ringfence workflows, to guard against the pressure of work impacting on the quality of justice delivered.

The workload meant there were roles which should be funded which had not existed until recently. When appointed 18 months ago, she said "believe it or not" there was no one who scheduled the workload of the 123 district court judges, a "significant investment for the taxpayer".

"What do you do with people who have very satisfactory salaries? You actually want them to be working as effectively as possible."

She said reporting on information in the court would likely be limited to generic data rather than tied to individual judges. As an example, appeal statistics carried "nuances" she believed would not be reported leading to a judge becoming an unfair target for criticism.

"In essence you're putting the head on the block unnecessarily, from my point of view. I think it is just one step too far. Our reality is that currently we have to expect the worst because that is how we are being reported.

"We would not be able to recruit good quality judicial officers to this bench or any other bench if they are going to be publicly excoriated or exposed."

Judge Doogue said there had been an "exponential" rise in criticism in the last 10 years. The criticism of judges "can be intense and it can be ongoing".

"You can't take this job on unless you have the fortitude to do it.

"You don't get to do the job unless you have a lot of experience for withstanding public opprobrium for what you do," Judge Doogue said.

Changes will bring greater openness and clarity to courts system

The changes forecast by the Law Commission's report into the century-old law governing judges bring in a new era of judicial openness.

The preface by Sir Grant Hammond, the commission president, said society strove for the "rule of law". It required everyone in the country, no matter who they were, to be "bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly made and publicly administered by the courts".

The review was needed because the present laws meant the rules governing the courts were not "clear, accessible and intelligible".

When Cabinet meets today "most of the suggestions will be picked up", said Justice Minister Judith Collins. She said "the general thrust and issues dealt with by the Law Commission are the ones we very much agree with".

Attorney General Chris Finlayson said recommendations opening up the appointment of judges would go ahead.

The law changes recommended by the commission are:

Appointment of judges

The process by which judges are appointed, from Chief Justice down, should be stated in law. The Prime Minister appoints the Chief Justice while other judges are appointed by the Attorney General. Consultation before appointment with appropriate people and groups should also be made law. The formal requirements to become a judge also need to become law, including a statute which enshrines legal ability, understanding of tikanga Maori, understanding of diversity and qualities of integrity, sound judgment and objectivity.

Conflicts of interest

The prohibition on judges acting as lawyers should be made explicit in law. The law should also rule out a judge holding any other office paid or unpaid without the Chief Justice's permission. The process for recusal - removing a judge from a case - should be spelled out in law.

Part-time and acting judges

The number of District Court judges should be set in law to reflect workload. New laws should allow the appointment of part-time judges for courts below the Supreme Court. Full-time judges should be able to shift to part-time for five years leading up to retirement.

Leadership and accountability

Legislation should be passed to give more corporate reporting lines in the judiciary and provide a clear chain of command. There should be a requirement in law for an annual report on all courts published by the Chief Justice. The areas to be reported on should be set in law.

Sir Grant told the Herald the recommendations brought added clarity to the courts. Spelling out appointments of judges would improve confidence, he said.

"The process has not been sufficiently transparent. And some Attorneys [Attorney Generals] have not used the same criteria. In the past it did look like a tap on the shoulder."

Sir Grant pointed to a lack of process or clarity in recusal cases and on the issue of reporting the court's business to the public.

"The starting point should be one decent annual report which has the basic information in it. That's been a long struggle on the part of the commission to get the judiciary to finally accept."

The series

Today: Law changes herald new age of transparency
Tomorrow: The truth about bail and the impact of the changes
Wednesday: Sentencing with a purpose
Thursday: A day in the life of a judge
Friday: The push for tougher sentences
Saturday: What next for the justice system.

By David Fisher @@DFisherJourno Email David

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Posted 16 April 2013 - 07:42 PM


#3 User is offline   netcoachnz 

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  Posted 17 April 2013 - 03:47 PM

Judge appointments in courts shake-up

ANDREA VANCE Last updated 12:54 17/04/2013 The Government is to overhaul how judges are appointed, in a shake-up of the century-old courts system.

But it has ignored calls for performance reviews of the judiciary.

Justice Minister Judith Collins has just announced she will introduce legislation to Parliament to make the system more flexible and accountable.

Supporters of a campaign to reform bail laws have called for annual "performance reviews" of judges, to increase accountability.

Legal think-tank the Law Commission stopped short of recommending appraisals in a review of the Judicature Act last year but did recommend an annual report from the chief justice.

It said the public "must be satisfied that judges are deciding cases in a manner that is fair and impartial".

The Law Commission also rejected the idea of a register of pecuniary interests for judges.

However, Collins said work was underway to allow the Justice ministry to produce information on court and judicial performance. Discussions were continuing with the judiciary about the publication of lists of reserved judgments.

The Law Commission also suggested new procedures for appointing judges - arguing promotions to the higher courts are not transparent.

Collins said the Government would make the processes and criteria for appointing judges more transparent.
The selection and recommendation process must be published by the Attorney-General, under the proposed legislation.

Among the proposals were also plans to establish specialist panels of judges to hear certain High Court cases, such as in the commercial and intellectual property arena.

The changes included:

* replacing the Judicature Act and Supreme Court Act with a Senior Courts Act

* repealing the District Courts Act and re-enacting it as a modernised District Court Act

* taking steps to improve and clarify rights to access court record information, for example, statistical information about court cases and expenditure

* making the processes and criteria for appointing judges more transparent by requiring the judicial selection and recommendation process to be published by the Attorney-General

* enabling specialist panels of judges to be assigned to hear particular types of cases in the High Court

* improving flexibility for the court to limit vexatious proceedings, and

* extending the District Court's jurisdiction to allow it to deal with civil cases where the amount in dispute is up to $350,000, rather than the current threshold of $200,000.

The Government will introduce a new Courts Bill to implement the changes later this year.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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#4 User is offline   netcoachnz 

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Posted 18 April 2013 - 10:49 AM

'Bad judges' site draws flak

Thu, 18 Apr 2013
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The Sensible Sentencing Trust plans an assault on the judiciary with a website designed to "out bad judges".

The victims' advocacy group says it will launch the website this month but has already set its sights on two judges involved in bail decisions over which it has raised concerns.

The fresh online assault on judges has brought disapproval from government ministers, with Justice Minister Judith Collins and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson speaking against it. The judiciary have also expressed dismay over the move, with opposition from Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue.

An internet domain registry search shows the site has been registered by the Sensible Sentencing Trust. It is not connected to this week's Judging the Judges news series in the Herald.

Trust spokeswoman Ruth Money said it would be based on information sourced by the trust, victims of crime or from members of the public.

"It is a website called Judge The Judges where we are using publicly available information."

She said greater access to court information was needed to better inform the public.

"At the moment, unless an on-to-it [news] reporter is in the court or a victim has contacted us we are not there to capture what is going on."

Judges currently in the trust's sights include Judge David McNaughton, who is criticised for bailing Christie Marceau's killer. Justice Mary Peters is another named by the trust - she sentenced a father who broke the legs of his baby daughter to home detention. The sentence was appealed and the man jailed.

The trust is already facing trouble over its website, with legal action being taken over material it printed about a man convicted for sexual offending against children.

The prosecution follows a Privacy Commission ruling coverage of the 1995 conviction on offending which happened 15 years earlier was in breach of a suppression order.

Mr Finlayson urged the trust to drop plans for the website. As Attorney-General, he must speak for the judiciary when it is criticised.

"I think [starting the site] would be very foolish and I would not be happy with it. It exposes some judges to dreadfully unfair criticism ... often based on ignorance."

He said the Law Commission was also seeking tightened rules around contempt of court which would afford the judiciary greater protection from persistent intrusion.

"You don't want to be too precious about some of these things and in a democracy you want to have a robust debate."

But he said added protection was needed to meet the personal focus on the judiciary, which included people staking out judges' homes or setting up websites to attack individual judges.

Mrs Collins, who has spoken at the trust's conferences, said she had "a great level of respect" for its work but did not support its "name and shame" website. "[It] is incredibly hard on judges ... [and] very simplistic in its approach to what judges do."

Chief Judge Doogue said the site would increase the pressure on judges without the context of the job they did.

She said she wanted to see discussion about the justice system that was better informed by an understanding of how the courts worked and the issues it dealt with.

It included understanding the parameters inside which judges worked and the way lawyers, victims and offenders were involved, along with other groups.

- David Fisher of the New Zealand Herald


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