Why Does The Law Society Stand Silent On An Important Issue of Judicial Conduct?

silence

Karl du Fresne* The Dominion Post’s Marty Sharpe reports this week that human rights lawyer Tony Ellis has asked Attorney-General David Parker and Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann to take action over two senior judges who intervened in a Family Court case that didn’t involve them.

Readers of this blog will be aware of the background to this affair. Sir Wira Gardiner, then the acting boss of Oranga Tamariki, spoke to Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu and Principal Family Court Judge Jackie Moran about Family Court judge Peter Callinicos’s conduct in a part-heard case involving a Maori child placed in the care of Pakeha foster parents.

Taumaunu and Moran subsequently took the matter up with Callinicos and were sharply rebuked by him for interfering in the case and thus breaching the principle of judicial independence.

Why Does The Law Society Stand Silent On An Important Issue of Judicial Conduct? 1
Tony Ellis

Ellis has now complained to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner about the judges’ behaviour, but thinks Parker and Winkelmann should take up the case because it raises issues of constitutional importance.

If you entertained the fanciful notion that the Law Society had an interest in ensuring judicial probity and upholding public respect for the law, you were clearly deluded.

Karl du Fresne

Sharpe reports that Parker has backed away, saying it’s not a matter for the Attorney-General, and Winkelmann has declined to comment. Well, fancy that.

Sharpe, who has the terrier-like qualities required of a good investigative journalist (and thank God we still have some), also approached the Law Society. It didn’t want to get involved either. In fact the society’s president, Tiana Epati, said the society was not aware of the facts of the case, other than what had been reported, and wouldn’t speculate on whether it raised issues of public importance.

This seems extraordinary. If you entertained the fanciful notion that the Law Society had an interest in ensuring judicial probity and upholding public respect for the law, you were clearly deluded. The society’s so unconcerned that it hasn’t even bothered to acquaint itself with the case beyond what the rest of us have read in the paper.

A Question for the Law Society

Here’s my question, then: why doesn’t the Law Society get involved? Perhaps it doesn’t have to, strictly speaking, but what’s to stop it? Shouldn’t it be concerned with upholding confidence in legal and judicial processes and institutions? Even a statement of concern or support for an investigation would count for something.

Or is the society worried that if it looks into things too closely, it might it might find itself in the embarrassing position of having to take a principled stand?

I frequently hear from good, honest people whose dealings with the law have led them to the bitter conclusion that the legal and judicial establishments are adept at closing ranks and going to ground whenever awkward questions start being asked about dubious conduct.  

The Law Society’s complacent, look-the-other-way stance will cement the impression that the law is a club that protects its own.

Author Bio:

Why Does The Law Society Stand Silent On An Important Issue of Judicial Conduct? 2

Karl du Fresne is a freelance journalist, author and columnist, and a former editor of The Dominion. He writes his blog here and is a contributor to The Spectator as well as being the author of Free Press, Free Society (1994) and The Right To Know: News Media Freedom in New Zealand (2005) as well as books on music and travel.

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