Jock Anderson 's Opinion

A look behind the scenes of the legal profession

Jock Anderson's Caseload: Do judges want to get even?

Photo / Richard Robinson.
Photo / Richard Robinson.

There are signs the judiciary may be eager to restrict news media court coverage.

To do so would attack the concept of openness and transparency which requires justice not only to be done but to be seen to be done.

A significant number of judges are known to be displeased with court coverage - especially by television.

In a recent survey of 97 judges who saw coverage of cases they presided over, 33 said the coverage was not fair and balanced - the general complaint being coverage was too short and amounted to sound bites only.

The other 64 reckoned coverage was OK.

And while 80 per cent of judges who took part in the survey thought media representatives conducted themselves with courtesy and decorum, at least 33 judges (20 per cent) disagreed.

They complained about the media's poor dress and courtesy, such as wearing jeans and sloppy clothes, the constant clicking of cameras and a failure to do what they were told.

These judges said there were a significant number of occasions when media did not understand the need to show courtesy to the court process or were rude.

Some judges do not like having cameras in court - television cameras in particular - and they disagree with how some footage is used from both inside and outside court.

A wide-reaching review, ordered last year by Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, of a decision 18 years ago to allow cameras in court, is reaching its conclusions.

So what do the judges think of having cameras in court?

Last December, 166 district and High Court judges (of a total of about 191) had their say.

According to Justice Ministry data, 129 judges had presided over hearings where cameras and television were in court.

Two thirds of judges (66 per cent) had refused applications to film in court, while only 34 per cent had never declined applications for media coverage.

The reasons for refusing coverage were varied, ranging from fair trial concerns, late applications, suppression issues, impact on victims, sensitivity of witnesses and complainants, privacy concerns and worries about what judges labelled "prurient interest."

A third of judges had minor concerns about how television coverage affected the way they acted in court - such as making particular efforts as to how they spoke and administered court issues.

Two thirds (67 per cent) did not consider television coverage affected the way they acted in court.

Three quarters (74 per cent) did not consider television coverage affected how prosecuting lawyers or plaintiffs acted in court, and 71 per cent did not consider coverage affected the way defence lawyers acted.

Some lawyers were better mannered when the cameras were on but some were not as relaxed.

Less than a third of judges said witnesses tended to be "more diffident" or looked possibly "more sheepish or intimidated."

On the positive side, 93 per cent of judges reported no instances where recording in court had resulted in a fair trial issue arising.

Ten judges reported fair trial issues had arisen as a consequence of televising proceedings, but none indicated a trial had to be aborted as a consequence.

Twelve per cent of judges said recording in court resulted in them disciplining the media, usually by a verbal ticking off.

In an area which will receive greater consideration with the rapid development of fringe media, ten judges reported receiving applications to film or record by people who were not members of accredited media organisations.

Observers say judges, many of whom are struggling to come to grips with the demands of fast-turnaround 21st century journalism, have been looking for an opportunity to put the news media in what they perceive as "its place."

Question: If 166 of 191 judges took part in the survey, what were the other 25 up to? Hard at work or off judicial junketing somewhere?


Lawyers handy around the house

Lawyers are more likely to do housework than any other workers.

Statistics NZ data shows 94.9 per cent of them are more likely to be involved in household work for their own home, compared to 87 per cent of all working Kiwis.

And they are far more likely to be involved in voluntary work than the average employed Kiwi, New Zealand Law Society president Chris Moore says.

In the four weeks before the March 2013 census, 27.1 per cent of lawyers had been involved in voluntary work through any organization, group or marae - well ahead of the 14.6 per cent of all working Kiwis who said they were doing the same.

Not many folk would have known that.


Juicy cases we need to know more about


John Banks

• Veteran crime barrister Roger Chambers told CaseLoad if any new defence evidence produced by John Banks stacks up, the Court of Appeal is likely to send the case back to the High Court for a re-trial.

The businessman and former Auckland mayor, cabinet minister and Epsom MP says fresh new evidence not available until after his recent trial will prove beyond doubt his innocence on electoral return dishonesty claims.

Mr Banks says he will file an appeal in the Court of Appeal which he is confident will result in overturning the High Court guilty finding of Justice Ed Wylie, and his subsequent conviction and community work penalty.

It is not yet clear what Mr Banks' new evidence is and to what extent it may challenge or contradict the trial evidence on which he was found guilty.

• The Malaysian government says it is making arrangements to send diplomat Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail back to New Zealand to face charges of burglary and assault with intent to commit rape.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully says the precise date for Warrant Officer Rizalman's return would be "sometime soon" but is "completely in the hands of the lawyers."

("This may or may not be a good thing," said The Scunner.)

The lawyers in this case include the Crown, whoever is representing Warrant Officer Rizalman - either here or in Malaysia - and whoever represents the Malaysian government.

Warrant Officer Mohammed Rizalman bin Ismail and his wife Nor Azura Hasim in Wellington.

Associate professor of law at Auckland University Bill Hodge earlier told the New Zealand Herald there would have to be some delays in dealing with WO Rizalman in New Zealand.

Prof Hodge agreed with the scenario that the diplomat could - if convicted and given a custodial sentence by a New Zealand court - do his time back home in Malaysia.

But he said the New Zealand Government would not want to be seen to be sending him back to serve his time in Malaysia just before the September election.

He said the last thing Prime Minister John Key would want is to look like former Labour Prime Minister David Lange, who allowed Rainbow Warrior bombers and French army officers Alain Mafart and Dominque Prieur to serve their manslaughter sentence in Tahiti.

Prof Hodge agreed that the Malaysian military were likely to grill WO Rizalman to establish from him if he was guilty as charged.

He agreed that if that was the case it made sense for WO Rizalman to be told or advised to admit his guilt in New Zealand and take his punishment - thus minimising further embarrassment to both governments and distress to the complainant.

In terms of how long a case of this nature - which first came to Wellington court in May - might normally take to come to trial, Mr McCully's reference to WO Rizalman being returned to New Zealand "sometime soon" could be days or months away.

And when that happens, who knows, he may proclaim his innocence and plead not guilty.


In the complex case of Orlov

Down but not out struck-off lawyer Evgeny Orlov has crossed swords with the judiciary and fought law society interests largely unsuccessfully through just about every court in the land in what has so far been a losing battle to save his legal career.

The Auckland barrister was struck off after a number of disciplinary charges were heard by the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal. The tribunal found him guilty of misconduct in relation to certain actions involving a judge.

In his ninth High Court judgment in the Case of Orlov, Justice Paul Heath gave him extra time to oppose a claim for costs by New Zealand Law Society interests in his drawn out conflict with the legal hierarchy.

Mr Orlov's High Court appeal against the striking off awaits decision.


Judicial feet at risk

Steps have been taken to protect the feet of Auckland High Court judges in the wake of an outbreak of illicit foot photography at nearby Auckland University.

A man was kicked out of the university after photographing the feet and shoes of female students.

"The High Court being only a dainty prance from this academic fetish hub it is considered prudent to ensure minimum risk to judicial feet," a senior judicial communications advisor said.

"The statutes provide stiff penalties for portraying Their Honours in contemptuous fashion."

"This includes unauthorised photographing of any part of the judicial person, their attire and footwear - particularly their Common Room slippers, DVT compression hose and hobnailed sentencing boots."


Footnote:

Further to last week's popular item about long-suffering taxpayers, Our Man At The Bar advises that the annual financial breakdown of which lawyers got how much from the over-strained legal aid purse should be made public in September, if not before...

Watch this space.

- NZ Herald

Jock Anderson

A look behind the scenes of the legal profession

With a life-time of court reporting under his belt - and from the sanctuary of the Ladies & Escorts Lounge - journalist Jock Anderson produces law-flavoured news and views with a touch of humour - occasionally aided and abetted by disparate cronies including Our Man At The Bar and The Scunner.

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