Friday, October 29, 2004

Sian Elias wakes sleeping dogs.

Sian Elias, the injudicious Chief Justice, has decided not to let sleeping dogs lie and reopened a row between her and the Labour Government. In particular, she stated:
I spoke out on the issue of institutional independence in New Zealand, and our Prime Minister said I should have gone to the Governor-General or Attorney-General.

That indicates a profound lack of understanding about judicial independence and our constitutional arrangements and is, I suspect, quite a widespread view.
Two things spring to mind upon reading this self-serving prose.

The first is that a Chief Justice, who had previously made a fool of herself by attacking parliamentary sovereignity, should have known better to accuse other people of constitutional ignorance.

The second is that what Helen Clark was annoyed about was that the Chief Justice first refused to share her concerns with the government because "of [her] view that communication between judiciary and the executive and Parliament needs to be formal and needs to be public" and then spelled out those concerns to a House of Lords Select Committee. If the Supreme Court is ever called upon to study employment legislation, Sian Elias should recuse herself because she clearly has no idea what the concept of bargaining in "Good Faith" is about.

And the issue that sparked off this imbroglio? Sian is concerned that because there is a convention that Judges do not return to private practice after they retire (I guess somebody forgot to tell Michael Guest), their superannuation is onerous (the government currently pays $68,750 a year to the judge's super fund) and they have to retire "early" (at the age of 68) and so are unable to afford gold-plated toilet paper in their retirement.

Why is this so bad? She gives two reasons:
1. Retired Judges will be reduced to taking on jobs from the government and thus be eager to stay in their good books (which has always been the case - when Peter Mahon annoyed Muldoon about the Erebus tragedy, he wrote books in his retirement partly for financial reasons).

2. The lack of financial security means that some lawyers are turning down the opportunity of becoming Judges (never mind the fact that this has always been the case).
For Sian to place additional stress on the already poor relationship between the judiciary and the government in a squalid dispute about money only raises the following question in my mind: how is the superannuation scheme of her husband, Hugh Fletcher, holding out?