New Zealand's next Chief High Court Judge has been announced after the incumbent decided to step down from the role and return to full-time judging.

Justice Susan Thomas will assume the role when Justice Geoffrey Venning, who was appointed as Chief High Court Judge in 2015, vacates the leadership position on May 31.

The changes were announced today by Attorney-General David Parker, who thanked Justice Venning's stewardship in the High Court over the past five years.

"On behalf of the Government, I thank him for his service to the judiciary and community as a head of bench," Parker said.


Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann said Justice Venning's calm and measured approach characterised his five years of service in the role, which carries heavy administrative and leadership responsibilities.

She said Justice Venning was an outstanding judge, and has presided over some of New Zealand's most important and challenging cases.

In recent years he oversaw the third trial of Malcolm Rewa and the trial over an alleged privacy breach of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters' superannuation overpayment.

In the role, Justice Venning also maintained the Earthquake list in Christchurch and oversaw the centralisation of circuit work to the three main registries and established the Commercial Panel under the Senior Courts Act 2016.

He will remain a judge at the High Court in Auckland.

"Justice Venning's effective leadership of the High Court, and his obvious intellectual strengths as a judge have earned him the respect and confidence of the High Court Bench and of the profession," Justice Winkelmann said.

"I am pleased that the judge will be able to continue to serve his community through his on-going work as a High Court judge."

New Zealand Law Society president Tiana Epati said Justice Venning had overseen a time of technological change in all courts.


"His contribution to our justice system and to our highest court of first instance is applauded. As our country battles Covid-19, his leadership of that court has been visible and authoritative."

Justice Susan Thomas, left, next to former Minister for Courts Chester Borrows at the Masterton High and District in 2013. Photo / Lynda Feringa
Justice Susan Thomas, left, next to former Minister for Courts Chester Borrows at the Masterton High and District in 2013. Photo / Lynda Feringa

The Wellington-based Justice Thomas first became a judge when she was appointed to the District Court in 2005.

In 2012 she started a Special Circumstances Court in Wellington to focus on the most challenged and marginalised offenders before being promoted to the High Court in 2014.

Epati said Justice Thomas' work in establishing the Special Circumstances Court "demonstrates we have someone who will bring practical experience, insight and compassion to the role".

The Chief Justice said Justice Thomas would bring her broad knowledge of the court system and of the wider social context in which it operates to the role.

Justice Thomas also chairs the Judicial Reference Group, which is responsible for working with the Ministry of Justice to plan for and oversee technological innovation within the country's courts.

Parker also announced the appointment today of Auckland barrister and solicitor Dani Lee Gardiner as an Associate Judge of the High Court.