The judiciary publishes the Guidelines for Judicial Conduct. These are intended to provide practical guidance to members of the judiciary in New Zealand. The general principles identified underpin the legitimacy of judicial function which is essential to any society organised by law. As such, the general principles can readily be accepted as standards all judges agree to live by when accepting appointment. The public of New Zealand is entitled to expect judges to follow the principles identified.
In practice, the application of the principles to circumstances as they arise every day is not always as clear cut as agreement on the general principles might suggest. The application of a principle may be novel or may be affected by changing community values. In some cases, whether the principle is engaged at all in the particular circumstances may be a matter of reasonable differences of view. In other cases there may be reasonable differences of opinion as to whether particular conduct by a judge affects the judicial function or whether it is private.
For these reasons, the guidance and comments provided are not intended to be a code of conduct. Rather, it is advice designed to assist judges to make their own choices, informed by a checklist of general principles and illustrations drawn from experience.
The Guidelines illustrate the difficult choices confronting individual judges from time to time. In the end, the legitimacy of judicial function and the independence of the judiciary depend upon public confidence. Stripping away the mystique attached to what judges do and making explicit the process by which ethical dilemmas are confronted respects the community’s vital interest in judicial standards and their maintenance.
The Guidelines were approved in 2003 and are subject to revision from time to time. The most recent review was in November 2019.
Guidelines for Judicial Conduct (PDF, 665 KB)
A judge may recuse him or herself if they have a conflict of interest in the case before them.
Each court has recusal guidelines:
The Chief Justice has issued a protocol containing guidance on extra-judicial employment and offices which she considers may be held consistent with being a judge of the Senior Courts, District Court, Employment Court, Environment Court, or Māori Land Court.
Protocol (PDF, 152 KB)
The Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner receives and assesses complaints about the conduct of judges. The Commissioner cannot challenge the legality or correctness of a judge’s decision in relation to any legal proceedings.
Depending on the seriousness of the conduct, a range of options are available to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner: dismissal of the complaint, reference to the relevant head of bench or, in the most serious cases, recommendation to the Attorney-General that a judicial conduct panel be appointed to inquire into the complaint.
The complaints process cannot be used to complain about a judge's decision. Disagreements with judges' decisions are dealt with through the judicial system. The decision can usually be appealed or judicially reviewed. Information about making a complaint can be found on the Commissioner's website.
The Heads of Bench and the President of the New Zealand Law Society have agreed on an informal process for dealing with concerns raised by members of the profession about conduct in court by judges which is thought to depart from the standards expected under the published guidelines for judicial conduct.