Complaints about NZ Employment Court judges have increased – by Kim Leighton

In this article we introduce the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner which publishes annual reports for the year ending 31 July. We also look at some basic statistics from the last five years.

(from The Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner was established in August 2005 to receive and assess complaints about the conduct of Judges. The relevant legislation is the Judicial Conduct Commissioner and Judicial Conduct Panel Act 2004. It provides for a Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner.

The purpose of the Act is to:

  • to enhance public confidence in the judicial system

  • to protect the impartiality and integrity of the judicial system.

The Commissioner cannot challenge the legality or correctness of a Judge’s decision in relation to any legal proceedings.

From this chart we see a significant decrease in overall complaints. There was a huge number of complaints against the Supreme Court a few years ago, but very few employment cases come before the Supreme Court, so we’ll move along. SC complaints and vexatious complaints have since reduced significantly, and complaints against District, Family and High Court judges were relatively consistent over the five years to 31 July 2020. Most complaints are dismissed.

Neither the JCC nor the Law Society handle complaints about the 15 Members of the Employment Relations Authority because it is part of MBIE and not a Court. The Chief of the ERA purports to handle complaints against its Members.

There are five Employment Court judges including the Chief. Complaints to the JCC averaged one per year in the four years to July 2019, then jumped to five in 2019-20.

Leighton Associates was not directly involved in this increase, although we cannot rule out the possibility of complainants having been influenced by our articles, or likely to be over the coming year.

We don’t know who the complainants were, which judges were complained about, or which proceedings the complaints related to. All we know is the numbers, ie: 1, 0, 1, 2, 5, against the backdrop of an overall decrease.

When the 2020-21 report is released in late 2021 we’ll provide an update.

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