From SAS to court boss

Last updated 05:00 05/03/2014
Karl Cummins
SOLDIERING ON: Karl Cummins has swapped a uniform for a suit.

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He led top-secret SAS missions in the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands.

Now the former commander of New Zealand’s elite troops has swapped desert fatigues for a desk job: in charge of the country’s courts and tribunals.

Lieutenant Colonel Karl Cummins began his two year deployment to the Ministry of Justice on Monday – a move the army veteran says is ‘‘hugely exciting’’.

Under his watch, the courts will undergo a huge transformation. New family justice reforms come into force later this month, and the district courts are being modernised. A number of courthouses are also being earthquake-strengthened.

Mr Cummins admits it is an unorthodox move, but says he is ready for the challenge.

‘‘I left running around out there [on the battlefield] years ago ... when people hear you come from the SAS, there is probably a bit of trepidation in the ministry that there are going to be 6.30am boot camps. I like to think I will slowly bring some experiences to the post.’’ 

The almost 2000 staff he will oversee also need not worry about him barking orders at the lower ranks – although he still talks in terms of ‘‘missions and goals’’.

‘‘It’s not going to be about telling people what to do, it’s about working together ... I learnt early on that if you have to tell people to do things then the situation is one of imminent danger ... but things are much easier if you get that buy-in from the start – militaries are no different.’’

 The 44 year-old joined the army straight out of school, aged 17. Within three years he was moving up the ranks, spending four years as a signals officer before opting to join the SAS.  He is reluctant to talk about his almost two decades in the SAS, but does admit to a few ‘‘hairy’’ moments.

‘‘There have been quite a number where there were close calls. That is the nature of the job, that makes it exciting.

People deal with that differently in terms what they will talk about because of security issues ... [or] because it is difficult to deal with.’’ 

He is ‘‘intensely proud’’ of his time in the crack force, but says continuing in the military would have been the ‘‘comfortable’’ option.

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He joined the Justice Ministry after being approached by Justice Secretary Andrew Bridgman last year. ‘‘It came as a bit of a surprise to be asked and of course the first question is why me ... but when someone throws you a challenge of this size you think pretty carefully about it.’’ 

Mr Cummins already has his sights trained on a 100 day-plan and his ‘‘mission’’.

‘‘It is a pretty clear mission. The goal is by 2017 to reduce people’s time in court by 50 per cent. District courts and special jurisdictions are the place where the majority of people interface with the justice system, so clearly we have got a lot of work to do to deliver that.’’

- Fairfax Media

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