Veteran journalist Jock Anderson joins the Herald with his new weekly CaseLoad column looking behind the scenes at the legal profession

Judging A Book By Its Cover

When a High Court judge is appointed one of the first things they are given is their personal copy of what is known as the Big Blue Chambers Book.

This enormously private volume, which is not for the eyes of lesser beings, contains a host of handy hints, tips, does and don't and sage hand-me-down advice passed on from those who have gone before.

For example, there's a handy and simple step by step guide to putting on formal judicial regalia, which CaseLoad can disclose flummoxed one recent appointee for about two hours and had the judges common room in fits.


What else is in the Big Blue Chambers Book apart from telling judges how to dress?
According to Bombay-sponsored in-depth research painstakingly pieced together by Our Man At The Bar and others in the Ladies and Escorts Lounge, Page One poses the question: Are your taxes in order???

Appendix A, for example, contains a list of places judges should be wary of frequenting...gaming houses, bawdy houses, public houses, opium dens, underground coffee bars and public toilets, too name but a few.

It also advises to steer clear of a fellow judge's private quarters when the other half is out of town on business - lest over-enthusiastic collegiality be misinterpreted.

Guidance is given on acceptable judicial japes and larks judges may play on their fellows and how much hot pokering can be given to annoying lawyers to fall short of a successful complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner.

There is also a sealed, illustrated centre section for lady judges only.

And so on.

Copies of the Big Blue Chambers Book are not readily available to folk who are not High Court judges or bishops but you could try trade me.

Who Needs Lawyers
Chief High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann let slip the other day details of a plan aimed at helping folk represent themselves in Court without lawyers.

Judges have reported a greater proportion of unrepresented litigants, particularly in the civil jurisdiction and the Family Court. Many are European men under 40.

Sharing her thoughts with CaseLoad, Justice Winkelmann says cases run by litigants without lawyers present challenges to the Court.

She says they take longer and judges must balance "fairness to the unrepresented litigants unfamiliar with the law as well as procedure and practice of the Court", against being perceived to show favouritism to one party.

In England and Wales, self-represented litigants are not seen as a problem. There they say the problem lies with a system which has not developed with a focus on them.

Judges there have agreed to adapt themselves and their system to the needs of litigants in person rather than the other way round.

Meanwhile to help out New Zealand's self-represented litigants, the Justice Ministry has started providing broad-ranging web-based DIY resources which, among other things, cover what is entailed in starting and defending proceedings, what to expect in the courtroom, what to do with documents and information about costs and disbursements.
"Food from their mouths, if you ask me, CaseLoad," said Our Man At The Bar, pocketing the loose change.

Curious Susan Writes
"Dear CaseLoad, I feel I have known you for years, you are to me as a kindly Uncle would be.

My problem is delicate. "See Caseload and he will fix you up," my chums told me.

You see, I am in venerable chambers with some jolly fine chaps.

But they get all the good jobs - you know, highly-paid consulting on this and that, wall-to-wall QC-ships, grace and favour posts on lucrative government advisory boards, representing us on the taxpayers' tab at lavish locations such as Tuscany, the south of France, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and Paris, to mention but a few.

I meanwhile battle to keep on top of the gruelling grind of thankless court work, preparing futile defences for the clearly guilty, arguing merit-less appeals, keeping up with prison visits, doing my taxes and paying my chambers bar bill.

I'm beginning to wonder if I am in the right job. What can a poor girl do???"

CaseLoad Replies

"Dear Curious Susan,
Perhaps you should join a rock n roll band!!! Seriously lassie, it's time to take yourself in hand, hang up the cardy, leap into the glad rags and let your hair down.

Find yourself a fully-fledged Stella Man and throw yourself at him. They're easily spotted, 30-ish, tall, wavy hair, wide stripe, thrusting hips, massive wrist watch, iPhone Umpteen.

Oh yes, he'll be brandishing bottles of Stella beer with the label facing out so folk can see...Yes Susan, Stella Men may be a dime a dozen but hitch yourself to one of them and you'll be a decorative totty and heavy with twins in no time...

Or you could take the easy way out and become a judge - district court, of course."

Quality, Thrift And Speediness
"What you need to remember, CaseLoad," said the Attorney-General over tea and scones the other day, "is we are not in the law for fun. And you can take that from me.

"I have not come all the way from Parliament at huge taxpayer expense to fanny about gossiping with you. And you can take that from me.

Au contraire...I don't mind confiding in you, in a confidential sort of way, because you are a chap we in power can trust.

Yes, the true reason for my foray north is to bring relief and assurance to those most under-valued, downtrodden and much-maligned inhabitants of our noble calling."

"Her Majesty's judges???" said CaseLoad, dunking a crusty bit.

"Nice try, old bean, but wrong again. The judges will have to wait their turn (Sotto voce: and well-turned they will be by the time I'm finished with them...)

No, chap, I'm here to reassure folk the taxpayer-funded network of Crown solicitors - one of the finest and most successful public/private partnerships in the world - remains secure for another 140 years.

And you can take that from me.

I know it was revealed 16 months ago the 16-strong nationwide network of private law firms engaged to work for the Crown were being paid more for doing less, but as we lawyers say - be that as it may.

Yes, a couple of chaps moaned about having to find more private lawyering work to make ends meet.

But we are forging ahead on a solid footing into the future, CaseLoad.

We are looking at how to squeeze more work from them - it's called fiscal prudence - by dumping thousands more miscellaneous nit-picking prosecutions on them to ensure the stakeholder gets better value from what is clearly an underused resource.

Quality, thrift and speediness...You heard it first here.

And you can take that from me. Now, I'll be mother..."

This Week's Question
In an article published in the local Courier newspaper about whether or not Justice Paul Heath should step down from the South Canterbury Finance fraud trial, Timaru lawyer David Wood observed:

"It has been suggested that the SFO's [Serious Fraud Office] "favourite Judge" comment clearly conveyed that the Judge picked was extremely knowledgeable, experienced and suited to dealing with a trial of four months involving complex financial transactions.

Does this means that there are Judges who are not knowledgeable, experienced and suited for this type of trial?

If so we need to know who they are, otherwise the judicial system that we have is not always providing the public with Judges with the proper ability."

Next Time
What does not count as continuing professional development for lawyers - CaseLoad's handy guide to staying in the game.