Q&A – Catriona MacLennan facing Law Society inquiry

This should be interesting, but with a Law Society inquiry into Catriona MacLennan’s criticism of a judge’s decision (that was subsequently overturned on appeal) it may limit what she can say about that.

Some background from Newsroom – Lawyer: I will not be silenced

Under inquiry by the Law Society for criticising a male judge’s comments on a domestic violence case, Catriona MacLennan wonders when the targeting of women in the law will ever stop.

Last December, The New Zealand Herald asked me to comment on a Queenstown case in which a judge had granted a discharge without conviction to a man who had assaulted his wife, a male friend and his daughter.

The judge said that “Really, this is a situation that does your wife no credit and does the [male] no credit” and “There would be many people who would have done exactly what you did, even though it may be against the law to do so.”

The judge’s comments and sentence in my experience are almost unprecedented.

The nearest analogy I can think of is the public criticism following the exculpatory remarks made by the sentencing judge in the case of David Minnitt, who killed his wife Leigh in 1980 and said afterwards he had been provoked by her criticism of his sexual prowess.

I told the Herald that I thought the Queenstown judge’s comments and sentence displayed a complete lack of understanding of domestic violence, victim blamed, and minimised assaults on three people.

I said that it was inappropriate that a discharge without conviction had been granted, and the result in the case was out of line with other decisions.

I also said that it was the role of the judiciary to uphold the law and foster respect for the law. Stating that “many people would have done exactly what you did” condones and excuses domestic violence. I do not consider it appropriate for a judge publicly to condone breaking the law.

I said I did not believe that the judge should continue sitting on the Bench.

This is the first time I have said that in 21 years of commentary on domestic violence.

The Police subsequently reviewed the judge’s decision and referred the matter to the Crown to consider an appeal against the discharge without conviction.
That appeal was granted by the High Court in March 2018.

The Chief District Court Judge, the Police, the Crown and the High Court accordingly all agreed that the Queenstown judge’s comments and/or sentence were inappropriate.

On March 7, I received a letter from the National Standards Committee of the Law Society, advising me that the committee had commenced an investigation against me in relation to the comments I made to the Herald.

Whether I failed to comply with a lawyer’s fundamental obligation to uphold the rule of law and facilitate the administration of justice in New Zealand?

The National Standards Committee asked me to provide a response to its questions. The committee has decided to deal with the matter on the papers, rather than holding a hearing. It can decide to make a finding of unsatisfactory conduct and impose a penalty; or escalate the matter to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal by laying a charge against me.

The penalties the committee can impose include censuring me; ordering me to apologise; fining me up to $15,000; and ordering me to pay the costs of the committee’s investigation.

My comments to the Herald were based on my 21 years’ experience relating to domestic violence: both as a lawyer in the Family and Criminal Courts, and as a researcher and anti-domestic violence advocate.

I made my remarks based on this experience and I still believe my comments.

Domestic violence victims, in particular, are almost never in a position to speak out about their experiences. As has been widely reported, Aotearoa has the highest reported rate of intimate partner violence in the developed world.

Neither the law society nor anyone else will ever silence me about domestic violence – or about any of my other causes.

If I have to choose between being a lawyer and freedom of speech, I will not hesitate to choose my freedom of speech.

She has chosen to make a stand. Time will tell how the Law Society deals with this, but in the meantime her interview should be interesting.

25 Comments

  1. Blazer

     /  May 6, 2018

    Hail Catriona.The judges live in a cocoon of sanctimonious fantasy.Best case for a long time was the Judge Lance …trial a few years back.Vince Siemer, a layman also ran rings around the incompetence of some very big …players.

  2. Trevors_Elbow

     /  May 6, 2018

    Not a lot of time for some of Catriona’s man hating diatribes on National Radio – she seems to think all men are some type of violent lower life form.

    BUT she is 100% correct in this instance. You DON’T smack the women in your life around – just don’t. What the Judge was thinking in this instance is beyond me – just a weird sentence and comments.

    Best advice to all males – just walk away. Don’t be provoked, don’t think you have some sort of ownership right, don’t get dragged in to the verbal games, don’t retaliate when physically attacked unless you’re protecting your own life. Just walk away.

    And keep walking …. there are always other women out there you can partner up with. And always remember walking away is the best thing for retaining access to your children – every disagreement or verbal shouting match will be used against you to restrict your access to your children

    • sorethumb

       /  May 6, 2018

      It sounds like the French crime of passion?

  3. Gezza

     /  May 6, 2018

    She got this right as a human being & wrong as a lawyer.

    • Trevors_Elbow

       /  May 6, 2018

      Are Judges immunity to criticism? If the All Black captain can be questioned and criticised why should Judge’s be immune?

      • Callum

         /  May 6, 2018

        Judges are immune from public criticism from other lawyers. She could have lodged a formal complaint without going public first. If that fails then you would consider going to the media.
        It is actually quite common for professional organisations to have rules and consequences for publicly disparaging another member.

        • Gezza

           /  May 6, 2018

          Thanks for saving me the time Callum.

        • Trevors_Elbow

           /  May 6, 2018

          So a Judge excusing violence against women is OK because there are rules and professional bodies to deal with it? Hmmm, OK.

          And yes I understand the professional rules element full well. We don’t want slanging matches in public and bringing the profession into disrepute….

          But in this instance that just sounds like a nice cosy club Callum – “didn’t bazza make a snafu there old chum, never mind just spend more public money on an appeal and we will never talk of it again” …. while the decision was overturned on appeal the initial comments are so bizarre the Law Society jumping on McLennan smacks of an old boys club protecting their own

          If a Judge exercises such poor judgment and makes such poorly considered remarks, but no other member of the profession can stand up and say that’s bat shit crazy, then the professional bodies rules are tad stuffed.

          • Gezza

             /  May 6, 2018

            Yes. They are. But that’s the deal you buy into when you decide to be a lawyer.

        • Blazer

           /  May 6, 2018

          well we would be without gems such as the divine…’an orchestrated litany of lies’…if that was..obeyed…and more.

  4. She was right.
    The subsequent result from the appeal proves that.
    Why is that judge still a judge ?
    They cock up they get fired the same as the rest of us!

    • Gezza

       /  May 6, 2018

      No they don’t. They might get demoted, but they get protected. Their bad calls & decisions can & have cost lives. It has no severe consequences for them. Unlike other jobs.

  5. Richard

     /  May 6, 2018

    I hope she’s nailed and loses her practicing certificate. Her sanctimonious anti-men, dad left rantings make me sick,

  6. Alan Wilkinson

     /  May 6, 2018

    Were the judge’s comments true? Nothing here addresses that question.

    The sentence is a separate issue turning on the seriousness of the offence. Again no information here.

    Did MacLennan have said information when she made her commentary? Again, no information here.

    • Trevors_Elbow

       /  May 6, 2018

      Provocation is no defense Al. She could have been the bitch from hell of all time, could have openly taunted him. But ya can’t react…. you have to walk away

      The judge excused the defendant as doing something others would do….. “There would be many people who would have done exactly what you did, even though it may be against the law to do so.”

      That is the dumbest statement from a person sworn to uphold the law of the land and employed to adjudicate on others actions under that law they have sworn to uphold.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  May 6, 2018

        That doesn’t answer any of my points.

        • Trevors_Elbow

           /  May 6, 2018

          You are being specious. I quoted from the judge directly and pointed out why it was wrong.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  May 6, 2018

            Irrelevant to the points I raised.

            • Blazer

               /  May 6, 2018

              well this statement by the judge is relevant…
              ‘There would be many people who would have done exactly what you did, even though it may be against the law to do so.”
              What message was the judge trying to convey do you think…Al?

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  May 6, 2018

              Simple question remains: was it true?

              And if so would a jury have convicted?

  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  May 6, 2018

    Always amazes me how many people are willing to jump to conclusions absent most of the necessary information. In such circumstances declaring what is inappropriate is the essence of political correctness.