Supreme Court judges land most complaints

by Sol Dolor24 Aug 2016
New Zealand’s Supreme Court judges were the subject of most complaints received by the Judicial Conduct Commissioner for the year ending 31 July 2016.
According to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner’s annual report, 221 of the 355 complaints received by the office, or 62.25%, are about Supreme Court judges.
Nonetheless, there are a number of reasons why the highest court is the target of most complaints.
According to the Commissioner, there were just 187 actual complaints among the 355 lodged in the period. “Vexatious litigants” filed 221 complaints, the report noted.
Moreover, the report asserts that many complaints about Supreme Court judges stem from the fact that the Supreme Court is the final appellate court.
The complaints cover a wide range including corruption, prejudice, bias, discourtesy, incapacity and incompetence.
However, the commissioner notes that no substance is most commonly provided in support of the allegations. Complainants often just disagree with a judge’s decision, the report said.
Furthermore, some complainants are even open about choosing to make a complaint rather than appealing or requesting a judicial review.
“It is unsurprising, therefore, that large numbers of complaints are dismissed because they seek to have the Commissioner act contrary to section 8(2) [of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner and Judicial Conduct Panel Act 2004] by challenging or calling into question the legality or correctness of a judicial decision,” the report reads.
Nevertheless, there were six referrals made in the year, five of which were to the Chief District Court Judge and one to the Principal Family Court Judge. Of note, no referrals were made to the Chief Justice, the President of the Court of Appeals or any other Head of Bench.
The six referrals are summarised by the report as follows:
  1. A failure by a District Court Judge to adhere to appropriate standards of courtesy, patience and tolerance and a failure to treat a person appearing in the Court in a way which respected that person's dignity.
  2. Behaviour inconsistent with the status of judicial office or which diminished the public's confidence in the Judge's integrity, impartiality or independence.
  3. A question mark over certain circumstances affecting a Judge leading to a suggestion that the Head of Bench should remind the particular Judge and Judges generally of the six special duties they all have in the maintenance of public confidence in the judiciary.
  4. Apparent overbearing and intimidating conduct toward a litigant.
  5. Unfairness in comments to a jury in a District Court trial.
  6. Behaviour falling short of the expectation of courtesy, respect and moderation.
All in all there was an increase of complaints received by the Commissioner at 355 this year compared to 2015’s 313 and 2014’s 235.