Judicial Appointments Unit

  • Doug Graham

The Minister of Justice, Hon D. A. M. Graham said today a more formal system of appointing District Court Judges will ensure the process is transparent, and will maintain the independence of the judiciary.

Booklets outlining the process and factors that are considered relevant to appointment are now available.

The new system will take effect as soon as a new stand-alone unit based in the Ministry of Justice is operational. The unit, to be known as the Minister of Justice's Judicial Appointments Unit, will run a confidential register of names of candidates who meet the statutory requirements for appointment to the District Court bench.

Mr Graham said officials had been working on the project since 1995.

"The public has been mystified as to how judges are appointed and on what grounds," he said.

"This more formal and transparent approach should reassure the public and the legal profession that the process is open to all who have the statutory qualification."

Potential candidates for appointment to the District Court bench will be identified from those who have individually expressed an interest in appointment by completing an "Expression of Interest" form, or have been nominated through other agencies. These agencies include the judiciary, legal professional groups (for example, the Maori Law Society and women's lawyers associations), the universities, government departments, Community Law Centres, and other relevant community groups.

Providing the candidates meet the statutory requirement (that is to have held a practising certificate as a barrister or solicitor for at least seven years), their names will be placed on a confidential register held by the Minister of Justice's Judicial Appointments Unit. When a particular vacancy arises a selection panel consisting of the Chief District Court Judge and the Secretary for Justice will select an initial shortlist from the information provided by the candidates. If the vacancy is in the Family Court the Principal Family Court Judge will be involved. If the vacancy is in the Environment Court, the Principal Environment Court Judge will be involved.

The short-listed potential candidates will then be scrutinised. The panel will do this by consulting key people including the Solicitor-General, members of the judiciary, the New Zealand Law Society, and the referees named by the applicant.

The factors considered relevant to appointment are:

professional qualifications and experience;
knowledge of the law and professional skills in law;
personal honesty and integrity;
impartiality and good judgment;
ability to make a contribution in a job which makes considerable demands on the time and energy of the judge;
effective oral and written communications skills;
management and leadership skills;
knowledge of the community;
knowledge of cultural and gender issues; and
acceptance of public scrutiny.
After the above process has been completed a shortlist will be drawn up for the Minister of Justice. The Minister, in consultation with the Chief District Court Judge (and/or substitute) and the Secretary for Justice (and the Ministers of Environment and Maori Affairs for filling vacancies in the Environment Court) will consider the collated material to assess which of the recommended candidates are to be interviewed.

The interviews will normally be undertaken by the Chief District Court Judge (and/or the appropriate Principal Judge) and the Secretary for Justice. However, the Minister of Justice may elect to join the panel.

The Minister will then decide the appointment and mention it in Cabinet.