Law specialist 'surprised' at NZ judge system

Visiting UK law specialist Prof Dame Hazel Genn in the staff law library at the University of...
Visiting UK law specialist Prof Dame Hazel Genn in the staff law library at the University of Otago law faculty. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
A law professor who is helping to revolutionalise the judicial appointment system in England and Wales to introduce more diversity says she is "a little surprised" new judges in this country are still appointed by recommendation.

Prof Dame Hazel Genn, Dean of Laws at University College, London, is the New Zealand Law Society's Distinguished Visiting Fellow for 2009 and has been in Dunedin this week meeting university staff and students.

She will also visit other main centres during a month-long stay in New Zealand.

Since the 1990s, she been a member of a new board established to change the way judges are appointed in England and Wales (Scotland has a separate system).

Rather than relying on serving judges to recommend new judges, the board advertises the employment criteria for vacancies, invites suitably qualified barristers and solicitors to apply, and oversees the selection process.

The aim was to appoint a wider range of people to reflect the diversity of the population of England and Wales, she said yesterday, and to "loosen the grip on power" held by "middle-aged white male barristers" who had traditionally been invited to become judges.

"We want more women, more black people and more people from minority ethnic groups."

Diversity was coming about but more slowly than the board wanted, Prof Genn said.

The new system was criticised by some, something she said was to be expected.

"The judiciary is an incredibly powerful social institution. . . [What we do] impacts on sections of the legal profession which thought a judge's position was pretty much theirs for the asking."

Prof Genn said she was "a little surprised" to find New Zealand did not have the same "open and transparent" appointment system as England.

"I think of New Zealand as being a modern, liberal country with values and standards the same as ours. I think of New Zealand as being ahead of the game."

While she said she was not here to cause controversy, she was pleased people wanted to discuss the English appointment system, how it worked, and whether it might work in New Zealand.

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