Labour disregards judicial independence

  • Christopher Finlayson

Ill-informed commentary about the numbers of District Court judges shows that the Labour Party at best does not understand the workings of the country’s judicial system and at worst has a disregard for judicial independence, Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson said today.

“At the end of 2008, there were 175 judges sitting in the District Court. There are now 174. During that time, case volumes have continued to fall, and we currently have the lowest recorded crime rate in 33 years.”

“Alarmist statements by Justice spokesman Andrew Little about a ‘perfect storm’ are not borne out by either the numbers of judges or the volume of cases in our courts,” Mr Finlayson said. “Mr Little completely misunderstands the role of acting judges in our court system, and seems to want a judiciary that has to seek employment favours from the executive.”

Acting Judges are retired judges who are granted a temporary warrant to sit for a specified period of time.

“As Attorney-General, I have given priority to increasing the number of permanent judges in the District Court, especially focusing on growing areas of work like Manukau, rather than appointing more acting Judges on temporary warrants. Because temporary warrants come up for renewal every few years, they potentially compromise the independence of the judiciary from the executive government.”

In 2010, the cap on the number of permanent District Court warrants was lifted to 156. From that point, the preference was to appoint judges on permanent warrants rather than renewing or assigning new temporary warrants.

In 2008, there were 138 District Court (including Family Court) judges on permanent warrants, and 37 on temporary warrants (175 sitting judges).

This year, there are currently 22 acting judges with temporary warrants, but 152 judges with permanent warrants (174 sitting judges).

Case volumes in the District Court have been falling since 2010 and are forecast to continue to fall in the future.

“The courts’ workload will always vary over time,” Mr Finlayson said. “The judiciary’s heads of bench and government work together to ensure that these variations can be managed.”