NZ Bar Association highlights disturbing attack on District Court Judge

The New Zealand Bar Association | Ngā Ahorangi Motuhake o te Ture says a New Zealand Herald article criticising a District Court Judge is a disturbing occurrence where a media organisation has used its privileged role in a personal and unfortunate way.

An article published in the Herald on Sunday criticised Judge David McNaughton after the Herald failed in a bid to have a name suppression order lifted. The Judge made his suppression order on the grounds that naming the offender would severely compromise his rehabilitation and be likely to cause extreme hardship.

New Zealand Bar Association | Ngā Ahorangi Motuhake o te Ture President, Clive Elliott QC, says the way in which the Herald has broadened its attack on Judge McNaughton to include other cases where the paper has not agreed with the judge is disturbing and personal.

Mr Elliott says the Herald has indicated it will be appealing the permanent suppression order through the court, but in the meantime has gone into print outside of the court process, where the judge has no right of reply.

“The NZ Bar Association is concerned with what the Herald has done for two reasons. The first is that if the paper is going to appeal the decision it shouldn’t be running its own public process through the newspaper to make its case. Secondly the way in which the paper has revisited other cases where it has disagreed with the Judge is vindictive,” says Mr Elliott.

Mr Elliott says he has been contacted by a number of concerned barristers since the article appeared in the Sunday paper.

“Our wish is to condemn the way in which the Herald has conducted itself by publishing the Herald on Sunday story and to re-affirm our confidence in the integrity of District Court Judges who are at the coal face of incredibly difficult criminal cases. It is all too easy for people who are not confronted with those cases on a daily basis to attack or criticise these Judges. Balanced, informed and fair criticism is one thing. Personal attacks and sweeping generalisations are not acceptable.”

Mr Elliott says it is somewhat ironic that this same weekend, the Herald has also published public comments made by the Chief Justice, talking of the criminal justice system, and warning of the risk of “civic disorder” if “criminalising” certain offenders or types of offenders occurs. “If this is a justified comment, then Judge McNaughton should be lauded, not condemned, for encouraging and facilitating preventative and rehabilitative actions of serial offenders.”

Clive Elliott QC, NZBA President
Phone: 021 389 121

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