Justice minister Judith Collins has been forced to correct
inaccurate information after being wrong-footed by a Cabinet
colleague over funding for judges.
The embarrassing correction from the minister came after she
adamantly refused to supply information because it "does not
But after details emerged from Attorney-General Chris
Finlayson which appeared to contradict Ms Collins, her office
was forced to admit it had made a mistake.
The initial answer came in an Official Information Act
response from Ms Collins which sought the dates of meetings
she had with Mr Finlayson to discuss judicial funding.
The Herald had sought details of meetings over the issue of
judicial funding, which has been one of a number of points of
tension between the government and judiciary in the past few
Ms Collins's office spent three months labouring over an
Official Information Act response and then said no
information existed because there had been no meetings.
The Herald sought out Mr Finlayson for comment, having
learned of approaches to his from the judiciary. As
Attorney-General, one of his roles is to act as a conduit
between the judiciary and the government.
Mr Finlayson said his office and hers were in "constant
contact"with Ms Collins on the subject.
"For this reason, it may be difficult to pin point any
particular date or time when such matters were discussed."
As it turned out, when asked to explain the disparity, Ms
Collins' staff found it was possible to pinpoint a December
11 2013 meeting with Mr Finlayson and the Chief Judge of the
District Court Jan Marie Doogue which included discussions
around judicial funding.
Press secretary Emma Kelly said: "This was not included in
the OIA response as the detail of the meeting was not
recorded in the minister's diary."
There have been growing tensions between Ms Collins and the
judiciary, particularly over resourcing of judges in the
courts. It is understood chief judges have raised with Mr
Finlayson the lack of funding to increase public involvement
in the court process through publishing decisions and formal
The issues were also raised by chief judges during the
Herald's series on the judiciary last year.
Meanwhile, Ms Collins has raised questions over whether
judges are doing enough work. In November, she wrote to
Finance Minister Bill English asking the Productivity
Commission "review the functioning of the district courts".
She said she was concerned judges were not disposing of cases
any faster even though their workload had dropped.
Labour justice spokesman Andrew Little said it "beggared
belief" that Ms Collins had kept no record of discussions on
such an important issue.
He said it also clashed with the understanding minister's
diaries were run tightly and that records were carefully
"Even if there were informal discussions on a topic, they go
away and tell their officials."
- By David Fisher of the New Zealand Herald