Judges' partners claim $500k

SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 05:00 25/11/2012

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The partners of judges have claimed almost $500,000 in expenses in the past three years, despite their spouses earning more than $300,000 a year.

A request in July for details of spousal expenses, broken down by category and individual judge, was initially declined by the Justice Ministry because it was "judicial information rather than official information".

But after consultation, Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias agreed to provide a total figure for the past three financial years.

This showed spousal expense claims had dropped during the period, with $167,560 reimbursed in 2009-10, $147,669 in 2010-11 and $137,279 in 2011-12.

Partners of judges in the District Court - where most judges work - made up about 80 per cent of the claims, with the remainder split between the higher courts and specialist courts.

There are about 170 judges in New Zealand, meaning the annual amount claimed by partners averaged less than $1000 per judge.

Neither the ministry, the attorney-general, the Remuneration Authority nor the judiciary were able to say exactly what partners are entitled to.

Numerous inquiries were referred between agencies before finally being directed to Chief Justice Elias, who is out of the country.

However, it is understood flights and a daily allowance of 40 per cent of a judge's entitlement are available for spouses on official trips of more than two nights. The expenses are administered by the head of bench of each court and are strictly monitored.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said it was "entirely appropriate" that judges' spousal travel was paid for, as judges travelled extensively.

"Unlike elected representatives, there is no public interest, only a prurient interest, in publishing the minutiae of judge's expenses. It is an unwarranted intrusion into judges' privacy."

Earlier this year, it was revealed that judges had clocked up more than $18m on travel and accommodation during the previous three years, including five overseas trips on which Elias took along husband and business tycoon Hugh Fletcher at taxpayers' expense. The chief justice's salary is $460,000.

Deputy Ombudsman Leo Donnelly said an investigation was continuing into whether information on costs incurred by the judiciary should be made public.

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