She highlighted the importance of maintaining judicial independence
New Zealand Bar Association president Maria Dew has released a statement on recent media reports regarding ministers’ comments on judicial decisions, highlighting the importance of maintaining judicial independence in the country.
Dew warned that judicial independence was crucial to maintaining the rule of law and democracy in the country. Her comments came after recent media reports highlighted remarks made by ministers regarding judicial decisions. Dew emphasized that it was essential that the public remained confident that they could approach the courts, and judges would hear their cases without fear or favour.
“Ministers are in special positions and have a greater media and public platform than members of the general public, so they have to be careful not to, even inadvertently, exert pressure or influence on the judiciary in their comments,” said Dew. She pointed out that the Cabinet Manual set out ministers' obligations when considering comments on judicial decisions.
While decisions of the courts and the conduct of judges have always been open to discussion and robust debate as part of an open democratic society, Dew noted that ministers must be mindful of their influence as elected representatives. She said there was a natural tension between Parliament, the Executive, and the Judiciary, and that the judge’s role was to speak through their judgments, steering clear of the political fray.
“[But] the converse convention is that Minister’s criticism of judges is kept within reasonable limits, so the administration of justice is not adversely impacted,” said Dew.
Dew stressed that prosecution decisions must be made on their merits, free from political interference or any formal or informal contact that may reasonably give the appearance of interference.
The NZBA president concluded: “It is very important for our politicians to understand and respect the boundaries that we have that protect that independence for police.”