Judicial appointments are made by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Attorney-General.
For appointments to the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court, the Governor-General is advised by the Attorney-General who, by convention, receives advice from the Chief Justice and the Solicitor-General. For appointments to the District Court, the Governor-General is advised by the Attorney-General who receives advice from the Chief District Court Judge and the Secretary for Justice.
Although judicial appointments are made by the Executive, it is a strong constitutional convention in New Zealand that, in deciding who is to be appointed, the Attorney-General acts independently of party political considerations. Judges are appointed according to their qualifications, personal qualities, and relevant experience.
Successive Attorneys-General have announced new systems designed to widen the search for potential candidates and increase the opportunity for input. Within the past 10 years the systems adopted by Attorneys-General have resulted in a more diversified judiciary. Judges have been appointed whose career paths have not been those of the conventional court advocate.
The convention is that the Attorney-General mentions appointments at Cabinet after they have been determined. The appointments are not discussed or approved by Cabinet. The appointment process followed by the Attorney-General is not prescribed by any statute or regulation. From time to time it has been suggested that a more formal method for appointment of judges should be adopted but that course has not been followed. There is no suggestion that the present procedure has not served the country well.
All superior court judges (Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court) are High Court judges. Section 94 of the Senior Courts Act 2016 provides that no person shall be appointed a judge unless he or she has had a practising certificate as a barrister or solicitor for at least seven years. This is the bare minimum for appointment as a High Court judge. Judges also require much more than just experience in practice. They must be of good character, have a sound knowledge of the law and of its practice, and have a real sense of what justice means and requires in present-day New Zealand. They must have the discipline, capacity and insight to act impartially, independently and fairly.