Judge Beattie

  • Doug Graham

The Hon. Richard Prebble next week will seek leave to move the following motion:

'That a respectful address be presented to His Excellency the Governor General requesting that His Excellency remove Judge Martin Beattie from office as a District Court Judge under Section 7 of The District Courts Act 1947.'

Although I share Mr Prebble's concern that Judge Beattie has not resigned his office I will not support the motion.

Judges are not employees in the normal sense. They are Her Majesty's Judges who, once appointed, hold office until retirement or earlier removal according to law. The independence of the Judiciary from political interference is a fundamental constitutional issue. The removal of Judges is not a matter to be undertaken lightly.

The Court of Appeal and the High Court are Courts of inherent jurisdiction. The District Court is not and is a creation of Statute. The procedure for removal of Judges differs accordingly. Court of Appeal and High Court Judges are removed under Section 23 of the Constitution Act 1986 which provides for an Address from the House of Representatives. District Court Judges are removed by the Governor General acting on the advice of the Minister of Justice. Parliament is not involved.

The Solicitor General has advised me there are no proper grounds for me to advise removal from office of Judge Beattie. I have accepted that advice.

I will not support the motion because:

It would be a courageous act of the House to ignore the advice of the Solicitor General and substitute its own view.
Even if the House were of a mind to do so, it would not be appropriate to make the Address until the House had enquired into the alleged "misbehaviour" of the Judge.
Because there is a statutory regime for District Court Judges my advice would be sought by the Governor General. I do not intend to advise removal. The effect is that the Address could have no effect.
The House would be seen to be usurping the statutory provision. The House would in effect be ignoring its own legislation.
While I share Mr Prebble's concerns this is an inappropriate procedure although within standing orders.