New Chief Justice to be appointed

With the current Chief Justice Dame Sian Eliasretiring in March the Government is starting to look for a replacement.

Stuff:  The hunt for New Zealand’s next chief justice begins

The Government has opened up applications to head New Zealand’s judicial system, with the Prime Minister looking to recommend the next Chief Justice by the year’s end.

It would be the first appointment of a Chief Justice since New Zealand established the Supreme Court, in a break away from the United Kingdom’s Privy Council.

Dame Sian Elias has held the position since 1999 – a time when the Privy Council was at the apex of New Zealand’s court structure.

Elias is set to retire from the role in March, and while a replacement was ultimately appointed by the governor-general, it was on the recommendation of the prime minister.

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has laid out a detailed appointment process – first led by the solicitor general – to distance it from recent high-profile and highly political Supreme Court appointments in the United States.

Solicitor-General Una Jagose will lead the work to produce a shortlist of suitable candidates for submission to the prime minister. Ardern said she would then consult the outgoing chief justice before making her recommendation to Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy.

The Opposition would also likely be consulted at various points throughout the process.

“Given the significance of the role of Chief Justice in New Zealand’s constitutional order, it is important that the appointment process is conducted against transparent criteria,” Ardern said.

“This is also important because this is the first ever appointment of the head of New Zealand’s final appellate court,” she said.

Complaint laid against Chief Justice

This sounds like it could be a big deal:

In a dramatic move the leading litigation funding group LPF Group have laid a complaint against chief justice Dame Sian Elias alleging that her actions had brought a “breach of natural justice, judicial bias and a failure to disclose potential conflicts of interest.”

In a press release issued today, the company, of which former Supreme Court Justice Bill Wilson is a director, said that the case related to the action funded by LPF against PVL Ltd and Pricewaterhousecoopers and the directors of PVL, which LawFuel reported about last week.

“This isn’t a decision LPF Group has taken lightly,” Mr Newland said. “However, the Chief Justice is the most senior judge in New Zealand, and her opinions carry considerable weight in the legal community.”

“Given the potential implications for plaintiffs accessing justice through litigation funding, often against well-resourced defendants typically with large insurance companies behind them, LPF Group feels very strongly that the circumstances need to be investigated in this instance.

“The potential impact of the comments has been highlighted by the way a significant insurance law firm representing the other side in the case has reported the decision in a public newsletter, as “creating uncertainty over litigation funding” Mr Newland said.

“The complaint is not related to the legal outcome of the case. The Chief Justice offered a series of unfair and unjustified opinions which were not related to the legal questions before the Court, and made incorrect and highly concerning remarks about the legitimacy of litigation funding in New Zealand.”

“Further, we believe potential material conflicts of interest with the insurance industry should have been disclosed by the Chief Justice. It was never disclosed to the parties that the Chief Justice’s husband Hugh Fletcher, is chairman of IAG New Zealand Limited which we believe is likely to be an insurer of one of the parties to the case in question and the largest insurer of professional liability in New Zealand.”