Increasing reports of court registrars and judges preventing parties access to NZ Courts have raised concerns within the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. Commissioner Director Rosslyn Noonan admitted to kiwisfirst that complaints have increased significantly since the loss of the Privy Council and that ensuring access to the courts is a priority of the HRC. She conceded the New Zealand Human Rights Commission has yet to take any appropriate action.
This recent revelation supports the harbinger raised by the Privy Council Taito v Queendecision in 2002. In that ruling, the Law Lords were scathing in their criticism of the New Zealand Court of Appeal. They accused NZ Judges of limiting access to legal counsel and legal aid and unlawfully recruiting registrars to make judicial rulings in an effort to more easily manage the Court’s case load. Many lawyers believe the Supreme Court Act passed the following year – which took away the rights of New Zealanders to appeal to the Privy Council – was a case of shooting the messenger. It also seems to have the effect of sanctioning such unlawful conduct. As this blip.tv video demonstrates, Auckland High Court Registrar Tony Mortimer is not shy about obstructing the filing of Court documents even when he is on camera. At minute 6:00, he is heard agreeing to accept the claim filing after being unable to find fault under the rules, but 2 minutes later, when he thought the camera was gone, furtively tells the clerk not to assign it a case number so as to keep it out of the system.
The Court of Appeal Judges accused by the Privy Council of behaving badly now sit on the New Zealand Supreme Court – which replaced the Privy Council as New Zealanders last Court of right in 2004.
So what are the ethical requirements of New Zealand judges now that we no longer have the disciplining benefit of the Privy Council? Would you believe it is a secret?! At least it was until today. After pressure from some lawyers intent on knowing what binds the conduct of New Zealand Judges, Chief JusticeSian Elias reluctantly agreed, effective today, to permit the NZ Guidelines for Judicial Conduct be posted on the Courts of New Zealand government webpage. Quite interestingly, they appear under the caveat“Note: These guidelines were approved in 2003. They are expressed to be guidance to judges, not rules for them. The guidelines are subject to revision from time to time.” Yet these conduct guidelines certainly look like rules with words such as “should” and “always”. It is even more evident that, whatever the intent of creating them, a good many judges have not been following them. Hence, the last line is perhaps an omen. As with the seven commandments in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, revisions are its destiny now that they have been displayed on the barn door.