The hunt for New Zealand's next chief justice begins

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will make the recommendation of the next Chief Justice.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will make the recommendation of the next Chief Justice.

The Government has opened up applications to head New Zealand's judicial system, with the Prime Minister looking to recommend the next Chief Justice by the year's end. 

It would be the first appointment of a Chief Justice since New Zealand established the Supreme Court, in a break away from the United Kingdom's Privy Council. 

Dame Sian Elias is set to retire from the role in March, and while a replacement was ultimately appointed by the governor-general, it was on the recommendation of the prime minister.

US President Donald Trump's recent success in getting Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the bench will lurch the US Supreme Court to the right - perhaps for decades, given appointments are for life.
SUSAN WALSH/AP
US President Donald Trump's recent success in getting Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the bench will lurch the US Supreme Court to the right - perhaps for decades, given appointments are for life.

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has laid out a detailed appointment process - first led by the solicitor general - to distance it from recent high-profile and highly political Supreme Court appointments in the United States. 

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There, Supreme Court justices are appointed by the President of the United States before being confirmed by the House and the Senate.

Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias at the ceremonial first sitting of the Supreme Court of NZ in their new building. She is now retiring and the hunt is on for a replacement.
ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF
Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias at the ceremonial first sitting of the Supreme Court of NZ in their new building. She is now retiring and the hunt is on for a replacement.

However, they are almost always politically partisan appointments, designed to sway legislative decisions one way or another.

US President Donald Trump's recent success in getting Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the bench will lurch the US Supreme Court to the right - perhaps for decades, given appointments are for life. 

In New Zealand however, Solicitor-General Una Jagose will lead the work to produce a shortlist of suitable candidates for submission to the prime minister. Ardern said she would then consult the outgoing chief justice before making her recommendation to Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy.

And at the swearing in of new Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy at Parliament. Dame Patsy takes the Affirmation of Allegiance under the guidance of Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias.
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ.
And at the swearing in of new Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy at Parliament. Dame Patsy takes the Affirmation of Allegiance under the guidance of Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias.

The Opposition would also likely be consulted at various points throughout the process. 

"Given the significance of the role of Chief Justice in New Zealand's constitutional order, it is important that the appointment process is conducted against transparent criteria," Ardern said.

"This is also important because this is the first ever appointment of the head of New Zealand's final appellate court," she said. 

Candidates had to be "outstanding judges" of the "highest intellectual and legal ability".

Jagose would be expected to consult confidentially, with a legal experts, as to who should be considered for the role. 

She would then establish a panel to develop a long-list, then a short list, before taking her recommendations to the prime minister.

Ardern would then consult with her Cabinet colleagues and Elias, before making her recommendation.

Elias has held the position since 1999 - a time when the Privy Council was at the apex of New Zealand's court structure.

That changed in 2004, when the Supreme Court was formed. The legislation establishing the Supreme Court brought to an end appeals to the Privy Council from decisions of New Zealand courts.

An appointment was expected to be made by the end of this year, but if it was not completed in time then the most senior available judge of the Supreme Court would act as interim chief justice.

Stuff