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The Role of the Heads of Bench

Each court is headed by a senior judge, usually described as the Chief Judge or Principal Judge of that court. Such positions are often referred to as 'Heads of Bench'.

Leadership of the courts is not comparable to the role of a head of a hierarchical organisation. The Head of Bench has administrative responsibilities in relation to the court but has no direct authority or responsibility over the judicial work of other judges. Judges are independent of each other and are not subject to any direction (in their judicial work) from any other judge, including the Head of Bench.

The Head of Bench's administrative responsibilities include scheduling the work of the court, determining where and when the court will sit, and issuing practice notes. In some courts that function is given by statute. In others, it is exercised by convention with the consent of the other judges.

Heads of Bench also deal with complaints about judges that are referred to them by the Judicial Conduct Commissioner.

The Chief Justice is the head of the judiciary in New Zealand and is also the Head of Bench of the Supreme Court. The President of the Court of Appeal presides in the Court of Appeal and has statutory administrative responsibilities for that court. The Chief High Court Judge is responsible to the Chief Justice for the administration of the High Court. Other Heads of Bench include:

 

  • The Chief District Court Judge
  • The Principal Family Court Judge
  • The Principal Youth Court Judge
  • The Principal Environment Court Judge
  • The Chief Māori Land Court Judge
  • The Chief Employment Court Judge

 

Heads of Bench meet regularly with the Chief Justice to discuss issues of inter-bench concern and to provide the basis for the communication of collective judicial views to the Executive.

The setting up of the Supreme Court from 1 January 2004 changed judicial administration. Formerly, the Chief Justice was a member of both the Court of Appeal and High Court. Although all judges of the Supreme Court remain judges of the High Court, the Chief Justice is no longer a member of the Court of Appeal and a new office of Chief High Court Judge has been created with responsibility for judicial administration in the High Court. The Chief Judge is responsible to the Chief Justice for 'ensuring the orderly and prompt conduct of the High Court's business'.

 

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