14 March 2011

The New Zealand Law Commission has published a report on the disclosure of judicial interests; “Towards a New Courts Act – A register of Judges’ Pecuniary interests.” It explores whether the recusal of judges for pecuniary interests is satisfactory, or whether law change is required. Do the 2010 circumstances surrounding the resignation Justice Bill Wilson indicate that judges are as susceptible as any others to misunderstanding conflicts of interest? Dr Kennedy Graham believes that is the case and has introduced a Private Member’s Bill to require judges to disclose interests.

A similar situation has arising in the US, although the motivation there seems more political with liberal groups apparently seeking to neutralise conservative justices on the Supreme Court. There are already controls in place, and a website provides a searchable record of judicial financial disclosures. However, the perceived misbehaviour of some on the US Supreme Court has led to a House member introducing a bill that would extend the existing Federal Court judges’ code of conduct to the US Supreme Court, and establish processes for the recusal of those justices.

Although the Cabinet Manual in NZ specifies how Ministers (the Executive) must disclose interests and Parliament’s Standing Orders prescribe disclosures by MPs (the Legislature) to date there has been no formality about the Judiciary disclosing their pecuniary interests. International anti money laundering obligations identify judges as a class that must make special declarations when transferring funds between jurisdictions . Article 11 of UNCAC provides that …” each State Party shall … take measures to strengthen integrity and to prevent opportunities for corruption among members of the judiciary. Such measures may include rules with respect to the conduct of members of the judiciary.”