Regaining trust in the NZ judiciary

Following recent findings of low levels of trust in New Zealand’s judicial system, what can be done to help boost this and restore the public’s faith?

Only 35% of the New Zealand public has complete or lots of trust in the country’s judicial system, according to a recent survey, Who Do We Trust, conducted by Colmar Brunton and published by Victoria University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies (IGPS)
 
Dr Michael Macaulay, Director of the IGPS and former UK Magistrate, spoke to NZ Lawyer about his initial thoughts on the study.
 
“This report is fairly straightforward in terms of analysis”, he said. “But it’s fair to say that people of lower income and the lower socio-economic brackets tend to have higher levels of distrust.”
 
While this was probably a tacit assumption anyway, Macaulay said it was nice to have some data and a sense of certainty around this topic.
 
“What you want to avoid, and it’s the thing you encounter all the time, is the kind of ‘man in the pub’ argument,” he said. “On that really straightforward, basic level, it’s nice to be able to say these things with confidence.”
 
So what should happen now we have this information? The obvious path forward, Macaulay said, is to have some serious conversations.
 
“I think it’s a case of actually doing some proper fieldwork. This could be organised in specific locations around New Zealand interviewing people and holding focus groups.”
 
One issue to consider is that getting people to talk about their court experiences can be ethically sensitive, he said.
 
However, if people in New Zealand have come across any negative experiences with the courts, holding an investigation would definitely be worthwhile.
 
“We shouldn’t speculate, but there might be a lack of trust based on the disparity of what people can do in terms of representing themselves in court. What’s public representation like? I’m sure it’s extremely good but that doesn’t necessarily mean people are always going to be happy or confident in it or that they trust it.”
 
There is also a need to look into what solicitors, clerks of the court and others working with the judiciary feel about the system itself, Macaulay added.
 
“Do they feel confident in the system? Do they have trust? That will be a really interesting question to ask,” he said. “We need to incorporate all these different views. It’s not enough just to talk to people of lower socio-economic status because they’re the ones who seem to have more distrust. We need to talk to everyone to get a balanced view.”
 

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