Andrew Little is the Minister of Justice and has recently announced that he is increasing the number of judges to over 160 in response to slow court proceedings and apparent demand.
Andrew is a decent man, as he showed when stepping aside from party leadership when he found the going a bit tough on the polling front, much the same as Simon Bridges should be doing now.
Andrew is not given to hyperbole so when he says we need more judges then there is bound to be some sort of reason behind it, but you would have to say most Kiwis would be surprised that there are so many of them. After all they enjoy status levels normally only the prerogative of a small group very highly regarded citizens, such as knights or dames. Indeed, even those people don’t automatically get everyone leaping to their feet just because they have entered the room.
This exalted status goes to their heads a bit when one observes how they interact with the rest of us. Sadly, I have had quite a bit to do with a fair few judges (fortunately not as a result of any criminal behaviour) and it is quite hard not to agree with John Bank’s view that a lot of them are failed lawyers, a view that got him into a bit of hot water. I have met them at all levels from the very top down to lowly district court plodders and with few exceptions they all shared one attribute, none of them were as smart as they thought they were.
The fact that so many of their decisions get appealed tells you something about the accuracy of their findings. Imagine if engineers designing bridges for example had that level of failures, nobody would dare cross a bridge.
Judges don’t just do petty criminal stuff which should be fairly straight forward, but more and more they are getting into financial and business disputes and it would be fair to say that legal training is a hopeless place to start preparation for such an important part of our economy.
Among business folk there is a saying about going to court for such reasons, “If you win you lose and if you lose, you’re stuffed”.
The track record of judges looking into building and business contract disputes is pretty dreadful really, with regular misinterpretations of technical issues and decisions delivered so long after the hearing that you know the judges have forgotten heaps of what went before them.
Then after the decision it is only the very well-off who can afford to challenge even the dumbest decision, so what options are left to them. Try taking a complaint to the Judges Review panel. Total waste of time as they are looking after each other.
Here is a well-publicised example. Remember when the three Auckland DHBs let a contract for laboratory testing. The incumbent was beaten in the tender by a new entrant whose charges were more than $20m per year cheaper. The incumbent went mad and had staff marching up and down and sucked in the medial reporters (not hard) who failed to focus on the sheer size of the savings. The incumbent challenged the tender process and a single judge, one Raynor Asher overturned the contract, thereby ruining the reputations of DHB leaders and senior clinicians involved, who also had to put up with strident calls from the Herald for their resignations.
The new entrant challenged the decision to reverse the contract through the Appeal Court who reinstated the new entrant and noted that the judge not only got the decision wrong, but he got everything about the case wrong. The hospitals got to make the huge savings but no apologies were made to those whose reputations were besmirched from either the judge or the Herald.
So, what happened to the judge who stuffed up? Nothing, he went on to make more decisions. The Judge Reviewer chose to ignore the hospital complaints about this judge even after allegations that he had a conflict, as his sister had had a dispute with one of the hospitals where she worked.
The point of this article is an appeal to Andrew Little to try and come up with a commercial dispute option that doesn’t involve judges and the totally unhelpful court processes, but does involve senior business people with relevant experience in whatever field the dispute lies in.
If this happens and judges are kept to criminal cases or those where they do have the appropriate skills then there wont be a shortage of judges and the Minister won’t be scraping the barrel to find them
If this happens people will happily stand for judges once more.