Reporting on the judiciary recommended

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 12:00 27/11/2012

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The chief justice should publish an annual report on the judiciary, the Government's legal think tank recommends.

Supporters of a campaign to reform bail laws have called for annual "performance reviews" of judges, to increase accountability.

In a report published today, the Law Commission stops short of recommending appraisals - but says the public "must be satisfied that judges are deciding cases in a manner that is fair and impartial".

The report rejects the need for a register of pecuniary interests for judges. A Green party bill requiring judges to make an annual return is currently before select committee.

The recommendations come in a review of the Judicature Act, and proposes the first overhaul of the courts system in over a century.

The Law Commission also suggests new procedures for appointing judges - arguing promotions to the higher courts are not transparent.

The Attorney-General must be satisfied a judge has been appointed on merit and should consult the head of bench, the solicitor general, as well as the presidents of the Law Society and Bar Association.

"It is important that there is a clear and publicly known process for judicial appointments," the report says.

"Although there are clear and transparent processes for the appointment of District Courts' judges, the same cannot be said of the higher courts."

Legislation should be clarified to prohibit all judges from undertaking other employment, acting as a barrister or solicitor or from holding office, the report says.

And clear rules and processes for recusal - when judges disqualify themselves from a case because of a conflict of interest - need to be developed.

The report also recommends the abolition of the commercial list - a team of judges who have experience in managing complex commercial litigation.
Instead, it suggests a two-year pilot of a panel of commercial and intellectual property specialists.

Other recommendations include:

* bringing the district courts into a single unitary district court that sits in different locations - like the High Court

* a three-tiered system to limit vexatious actions

* recommends the Judicature Act 1908,  the Supreme Court Act 2003 and the District Courts Act 1947 be consolidated into a single, modern, clear, unitary Courts Act.  

Law Commission President, Sir Grant Hammond, says it is vital that the laws which govern how courts operate are "modern, clear and easily accessible to all.

"Currently this is not the case. The laws are contained in three different statutes, one of which, the Judicature Act, was enacted more than a century ago. Its language is arcane, some of its provisions unclear, and it has been amended more than 40 times. It is in urgent need of modernisation." 

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