What role does the Chief Justice of New Zealand Play in Politics?

Something puzzling happened last week. The Chief Justice of New Zealand, Dame Sian Elias, made the news for criticising the government for its reform of the criminal justice system.

Derek Cheng of the Herald reckons she has done it before.

“It is not the first time Dame Sian has taken aim at the Government. In a 2009 speech she criticised the punitive approach to the criminal justice system and suggested granting amnesty to some prisoners to relieve New Zealand’s bulging prisons.”

At the time she was hammered by both Simon Power and Garth McVicar.

“In response, Minister of Justice Simon Power said that it is up to the Government to set sentencing policy and judges to apply it. Sensible Sentencing Trust’s Garth McVicar stated Elias should resign because of her stance but academics and lawyers lent support to the points raised in her speech.”

Maybe it is time to give Simon Power some credit, as it seems he is right. Though this blogger is not sure about the precedent for the top judge to criticise government policy, or even be involved in the political environment at all. Could readers please comment via the tipline (comments will treated as confidential) about what the precedence is in NZ, and what the constitutional rules around such criticism is?

Responders should confine themselves to the Chief Justices’ role, not whether she is right or wrong. Lets establish whether Sian Elias should be commenting on government policy or whether she should remain on the bench if she choses to comment.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

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