INDEPENDENT NEWS

Why Did She Wait On The Judges?

Published: Tue 11 Nov 2003 08:29 AM
Why Did She Wait On The Judges?
If only Attorney General Margaret Wilson had promised to elevate the senior Court of Appeal judges to the new Supreme Court, when she first introduced the Bill giving herself power to appoint them all, much damage to our courts' prestige could have been avoided, ACT New Zealand Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks said today.
"Ms Wilson was urged to show that the appointments would not be political, including during the Select Committee process. ACT and National tried to have a simple promotion section included in the law," Mr Franks said.
"Instead, she was determined to keep open the possibility of selecting favourites. If she had accepted sensible advice, she would not have needed her eminent advisor Sir Paul Reeves and the others on the committee charged with giving her nominees.
"Two problems remain. As ACT warned, the Select Committee recommendation for six judges has been ignored. With only five, temporary judges will be needed. Ms Wilson chooses them from the ranks of retired judges. We can expect to see activist Justice Edward Thomas back on the bench.
"The Supreme Court will largely be comprised of the same judges who gave us the seabed and foreshore decision, overturning 100 years of settled practice and 40 years of settled law. Judicial activism - giving decisions according to what they think the law now ought to be, instead of what it has been, and what Parliament has taken it as being - can be encouraged, depending on the temporary appointments.
"The second problem lies in the scope for replacements. For example, Sir Kenneth Keith is our most likely contender for appointment to a prestigious international court. Ms Wilson would have the opportunity to appoint his replacement.
"I am glad that commonsense has prevailed at this stage, but concerned that it needed uproar and a public campaign to secure it. There is nothing in the new law to discourage activism, and biased appointments in the future.
"The public should still get the chance to express its view by way of referendum. I would expect these appointments to encourage more people to vote `Yes' in a referendum," Mr Franks said.

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