The NZ Judiciary is an independent branch of government, primarily so Judges cannot be influenced by political pressures or others when they are making decisions in Court. Judges have permanent tenure, salary protection and cannot be sued for actions that are performed in their judicial capacity.
Judges are not monitored or performance managed. They are not answerable for their decisions to any superior authority, nor are they accountable in the same way as, for example, Ministers are to Parliament. Their sentencing decisions are open to appeal and review only via the appeal court, however their decisions on bail cannot be challenged. SST believes Judges have become a law unto themselves.
We have set up the Judge The Judges site in order to encourage some degree of public accountability for the judiciary.
SST wants the following changes:
a. Implement a “risk assessment tool” to assist Judges to make well-informed bail decisions.
We understand that no standardised risk assessment tool is available to assist judges to make their bail decisions, and this allows for inconsistent and ill-informed judgements. We understand that the Department of Corrections uses a form of risk assessment tool in assessing how they will manage inmates and their security classification. We believe a similar approach may assist judges to make sound, informed, and consistent bail decisions.
b. Implement practical methods of increasing judicial accountability for bail decisions, such as internal benchmarking of Judges’ performance and assistance for poorly performing Judges.
Judges’ decisions and performance remain insulated from scrutiny, despite those decisions having potentially fatal results when they are wrong. We think the Minister of Justice should direct her ministry to implement a system of internal benchmarking and performance review, drawing on any models that may operate in other jurisdictions.