Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Karl du Fresne: Judge's meetings with Oranga Tamariki: nothing to see here, folks

Marty Sharpe of the Dominion Post has another story on the Judge Callinicos affair this morning, this time reporting a law academic’s concerns about Chief Family Court judge Jackie Moran having regular meetings with Oranga Tamariki’s chief executive and senior lawyers.

Auckland University law professor Mark Henaghan is quoted as saying our legal system is based on the separation of powers between Parliament, the courts and the executive. Meetings between Moran and Oranga Tamariki, whose staff and lawyers are frequently involved in contentious cases before the Family Court, appear to cross that line.

Henaghan says they give the appearance of “undermining the separation of powers and potentially weakens the checks and balances principle and the independence of the judiciary”.

But hey, there’s nothing to be concerned about. Sharpe’s story then quotes Caroline Hickman, chairwoman of the NZ Law Society’s family law section, as saying she didn’t find such meetings unusual because Moran’s role was “to ensure the orderly and expeditious discharge of the business of the Family Court”.

She said Moran also regularly met with her own organisation to discuss issues relating to the smooth functioning of the Family Court, and co-operation between Oranga Tamariki and the Court.

But there’s a crucial difference, as Hickman must know, between discussing matters of procedure and administration – which is what she seems to be talking about – and actively intervening in a case while it was still in progress, and thus creating the impression of trying to influence the outcome.

That’s the key issue in the so-called Moana case, in which Family Court judge Peter Callinicos accused two senior judges – Moran and Chief District Court judge Heemi Taumaunu – of compromising his judicial independence by contacting him after Sir Wira Gardiner, then acting CEO of Oranga Tamariki, complained that Callinicos had “bullied” OT social workers during the hearing of the case. Callinicos was extremely critical of OT's conduct during the hearing and issued a decision thwarting the ministry’s attempts to remove a vulnerable Maori girl from a loving, safe Pakeha home on the pretext that her cultural needs were not being met.

Barrister Tony Ellis, in a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, has accused the two senior judges – known as the Heads of Bench – of unlawfully lobbying Callinicos. It's also alleged that Callinicos was the subject of discussions, without his knowledge, involving second-ranked Supreme Court judge Sir William Young, who is claimed to have criticised Callinicos in a “scathing” letter to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, Alan Ritchie – and that Ritchie formed a conclusion about the affair without even giving Callinicos a chance to respond to the accusations against him.

All this has spilled out into the public arena in an unprecedented judicial squabble, with Callinicos engaging lawyers to act on his behalf and 60 fellow judges reportedly contacting him to express their support.

The affair has been exacerbated by a campaign against Callinicos dating back to his decision in an unrelated marital case involving a woman named only as Mrs P, whose case was taken up by feminist academics and sympathetic (for which, read partisan) journalists. All this has made the Hawke’s Bay judge a marked man, targeted both from within and outside the judicial establishment. It’s likely he has also made an enemy of Hawke’s Bay iwi Ngati Kahungungu, which wanted Moana placed with Maori caregivers.

I suppose it can be considered progress of sorts that the Law Society has at least found its voice on the Moana controversy, even if Hickman’s comment seems disingenuous. When Sharpe approached the society’s president, Tiana Epati, for comment after he first broke the story in August, she hadn’t bothered to look into the case and wouldn’t speculate on whether it raised matters of public importance.

As I wrote at the time: “This seems extraordinary. If you entertained the fanciful notion that the Law Society had an interest in ensuring judicial probity and upholding public respect for the law, you were clearly deluded. The society’s so unconcerned that it hasn’t even bothered to acquaint itself with the case beyond what the rest of us have read in the paper.”

The good news is that Sharpe is not allowing the story to fade from the public view, no matter how keen the legal and judicial establishment is to kick the ball into the long grass.

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at


Brian A said...

Good artical Karl, good to see it's not going to fade away. Totally agree with judge Callinicos, he did the right thing, good on him for standing up to the Heads of Bench, it sounds like tribal rule is taking over our justice sector in favour of democracy . The Heads of Bench are well out of order, and should pull your heads in.

Plimsol Marker said...

Surely Heads of Bench cannot be activist lobbyists and remain Heads of Bench. If the Minister of Justice was worthy of the responsibilities his office entailed they would rout out any separatist bias in the judiciary and mark them for immediate early retirement. Controlling veto powers in Local Govt, control of resources under 3 waters, rewritten fake history in Education, separate controlling health system, excessive and aggravating name changing, overreach in the television media, excessive claims upheld by the tribunal, it all adds up to an aggressive undermining agenda, and on top we see an appeasement and glad handing socialist govt endorsing every step of the way.

KP said...

Take it to the House of Lords.

Oh wait...

Plimsol Marker said...

Regrettably the House of Lords nor the Privvy Council are not available for legal redress.
IMHO We the people are having our common Rights assaulted, the Rights entitled to Citizens under the Magna Carta and successive Common Law and the TOW, guaranteed NOT by any fake Tribunal, but by the Very Monarch who is party to the Treaty.
IMHO, We the people, We the Citizens should petition the Monarch directly to instruct their new GG to dissolve Parliament and require a fresh election. The people need to resolve that which is their program.