Saturday, November 27

No performance reviews and 20% salary increases for some judges


Some judges have had salary increases of almost 20 percent in the last 5 years, although they have never been given performance reviews.

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Photo: RNZ / Vinay Ranchhod

Salaries for associate Superior Court judges have increased 19.2 percent since 2016, to nearly $ 400,000, although the average increase for all judges during that time was 8 percent.

Today, greater scrutiny is called for amid criticism that judges who misbehave are not being held to account by the current grievance system, and some could be appointed to the position for life without having to attend. to a formal interview.

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Photo: RNZ / Vinay Ranchhod

While it was crucial that judicial independence be maintained, Defense Lawyers Association co-founder Elizabeth Hall said there is currently no way to know if a judge is doing a good job.

“Judges protect their independence fiercely, as they should, but there is very little feedback out of 360 a judge would get not only on their decision making, but on how they treat the people who appear in front of them and who are users of the cut, “Hall said. .

“So I think it is really difficult to analyze if you are naming the best people or if it is a training and education process that needs more attention.”

Attorney Nick Chisnall agreed, saying there appeared to be no repercussions for the judges if they made mistakes. I often saw the same judges making the same kinds of mistakes, and the ramifications could be costly.

“I’ll give you an example. From 2018 to 2020 there were a series of cases in which a judge materially diverted the jury in a series of trials on the burden and standard of proof.”

That resulted in about six appeals being allowed because the judge kept making the same mistake, despite the model instructions being set out in the judge’s manual, he said.

“So what were the repercussions that stemmed from that repeated error? That is a significant cost, not just financial, but emotional, when defendants and complainants have to go through another trial.”

Chisnall never knew if the judge faced any consequences.

“That’s the million dollar question,” he said.

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“There is much to be said for transparency. Not for a moment do I suggest that our judiciary is flawed; I think we have a very well-qualified and dedicated judiciary. But the fact is that we all make mistakes. And it is not. About the fact that you made a mistake, it’s about making sure it doesn’t happen again. “

Chisnall wanted to see more transparency in how court errors are handled and suggested that there should be processes similar to those followed by professional bodies that oversee the registration of doctors, lawyers and teachers.

“As in any other role, where you have significant responsibility, there need to be transparent key performance requirements against which judges must be held accountable.”

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Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann.
Photo: Supplied

Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann said accountability was provided through the appeals process.

One third of all appeals filed following District Court decisions to higher courts were successful in 2019/20. That dropped to 0.5 percent if the 12,499 issues resolved during the period were taken into account, according to the court’s annual report.

“Appeal is an important form of accountability. If we are wrong in what we do, then we are corrected on appeal. It is a very public process and we just have to accept it. It is part of being a judge,” Judge Winkelmann said.

If a judge’s decisions were frequently overturned, then the bank manager may suggest that additional training is needed. “That would be a rather unusual circumstance. But if he suggested that there is a gap in his knowledge, then we would address it.”

The judges did not have routine performance reviews to make sure they were doing a good job, he said.

“There is no formal performance appraisal, but we have a mentoring program that provides an opportunity for colleagues to talk to them about how things are going. This is how we approach it.”

The Chief of Courts also provided pastoral support and all judges received continuing education through the Institute for Judicial Studies, Judge Winkelmann said.

Criminal defense attorney Marie Taylor Cyphers said the appeals process was effective but did not always take into account “personality issues” that could drive a judge’s behavior or performance in court.

She believed that judicial candidates should undergo psychometric tests to make sure they had the right personalities to cope with the pressures of the position.

“You would do it in any other administrative role. We need to know what kind of person you are, can you handle the pressure? Are you going to get really aggressive … all those things are so important.”

Judicial investigator Jessica Kerr said the Institute for Judicial Studies was doing excellent work for serving judges, but she wanted to see a greater emphasis on making sure future judges were prepared specifically for the position.

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Jessica kerr
Photo: Supplied

“Once you are appointed in New Zealand, you have constitutionally protected independent status for life. Basically, you cannot be fired and you have the right to remain in judicial office until you retire,” Kerr said.

“So if a mistake is made, in the course of the appointment, that mistake is permanent. There is no interim period, there is no probation, there is no possibility of growth in the position,” he said.

Kerr, a New Zealander and former magistrate who is completing a doctorate on the judiciary at the University of Western Australia, said the lack of training provided to New Zealand judges prior to their appointment was concerning.

“We do not give judges sufficient fundamental professional training at the beginning of their judicial careers.

“Although we are fortunate to have an incredibly competent judiciary, overall, I think it is almost more despite the system than because of it.

“And so I think it is fair to say that some judges do not have the full set of judicial powers when they first take office. And that is not their fault.”

“I am not referring to any current or past judge in New Zealand, specifically. But if a person connects directly from one profession and is placed in another profession, it stands to reason that they are not perfectly prepared for that new profession on day one.”

Judicial salary increases

Judges’ salaries have increased by an average of 8 percent since 2016, although some have received salary increases of almost 20 percent.

Maori Land Court and District Court judges are the lowest paid, receiving annual salaries of $ 358,100, 7 percent more than in 2016.

Deputy Superior Court judges received the largest salary increase in the past five years, with salaries increasing 19.2 percent to $ 399,000.

Judges for the Main Juvenile Court and Environmental Court saw a salary increase of just over 12 percent to $ 403,600.

The judges did not get a salary increase in 2020, and salaries remained at 2019 levels.

Between 2016 and 2020, public sector salaries increased 12.4 percent and New Zealand’s average salary increased 9.5 percent, according to figures from Stats NZ.

The judges also have a generous pension plan, in which the government contributes $ 7.50 for every dollar a judge puts up. Parliamentarians receive $ 2.50 from the public treasury for every $ 1 they contribute.

The president of the Remuneration Authority, Fran Wilde, said there were good reasons why the judicial salary was high.

“In many parts of the world, they have a huge level of corruption in the judiciary. We don’t want that, so we pay them well. And in New Zealand we also give them a generous retirement so it’s not a matter of demanding bribes.”

Judges are also compensated for being unable to practice law again, Wilde said.

“For the highest positions, they tend to recruit from highly paid QCs and other areas of the legal profession. So if you want to recruit them, you have to pay them, otherwise they may remain in the practice.”

Many high-level attorneys suffered big pay cuts when they joined the court, Kerr said.

“Basically, they are entering the beach as a form of public service, because for many high-level lawyers it is a massive pay cut.”


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