2 Sep 2010

Judicial Conduct Commissioner's role explained to court

7:09 pm on 2 September 2010

The role of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner is to make preliminary inquiries when a complaint is made against a judge, the High Court in Wellington has been told.

Three judges are hearing a judicial review regarding the commissioner's recommendation that a panel be established to investigate Justice Bill Wilson over allegations of bias.

Justice Wilson's lawyer Colin Carruthers, QC, is seeking to have the recommendation overturned and earlier told the court the commissioner's investigation revealed no misbehaviour on his client's part which could justify his removal from office.

However, the commissioner's lawyer David Goddard, QC, said on Thursday the commissioner's role is to examine initial complaints about judges and determine whether they are frivolous or require further action.

He said the commissioner can recommend to the Attorney-General that a judicial conduct panel be convened to consider the allegations in more depth.

Mr Goddard said the Attorney-General then had independent discretion over whether or not to establish a panel.

The court was told the procedure by which judges are investigated is designed to ensure that the decision to remove one is not taken lightly.

Mr Goddard a number of other steps would need to be followed before the decision to remove a judge was made. He said the process would usually have remained confidential but this case had attracted a lot of publicity.

Allegations of bias arose as a result of a business relationship between Justice Wilson and Alan Galbraith, a lawyer who appeared before him in a Court of Appeal case.

Mr Carruthers told the court on Wednesday that his client did not owe Mr Galbraith a cent and that a complaint about those matters by a retired judge, Sir Edmund Thomas, was based on conjecture.