Judicial Independence and Accountability

In order for a judge to make fair decisions, he or she must be independent. This is often depicted in the metaphor of “blind justice”. A judge’s decision must not be influenced by anything other than the law and the arguments presented in court. This means that everyone appearing in court can receive a fair hearing before an impartial judge. It is also important that the general public can see that the law is fairly decided. This ensures that New Zealanders have confidence in the decisions made by the District Court.

In order to ensure that judges are independent, New Zealand’s laws and constitution provide judges with some protections. For example, no government minister or judge can dismiss another judge, or control their salary. This ensures that a judge cannot be manipulated by any other person.

As well being independent, judges must also be accountable to their communities. Almost all judges’ decisions are given in public, unless there is good reason to protect a party, victim or witness. This website makes many of those decisions publicly available online. Furthermore, District Court decisions can be appealed to appellate courts.

The District Court Judiciary also publishes measures of timeliness and successful appeals in its Annual Reports, and evaluates its own performance in its three-yearly International Framework for Court Excellence (IFCE) Assessment. The IFCE Assessment is a survey of all judges and Community Magistrates, which assists the Chief Judge in understanding the courts' performance and to monitor improvements over time.

Complaints can also be made against the conduct of District Court Judges. These complaints are reviewed by the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, who is not a member of the Judiciary. For further information about the judicial complaints process, please visit the website of the Office of Judicial Conduct Commissioner.

It is sometimes said that judicial independence and judicial accountability are in conflict with one another. Ultimately, however, they both serve the same purpose: to provide confidence to the public that every person in the District Court receives a fair hearing.