5 Oct 2021

Top lawyer complains over Judge Callinicos saga

5:48 pm on 5 October 2021

A top human rights lawyer has accused the Judicial Conduct Commissioner of creating a scandal that has implicated highly ranked judges.

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Judge Peter Callinicos Photo: The District Court of New Zealand

Judicial Conduct Commissioner (JCC) Alan Ritchie launched an investigation after a media report revealed Judge Peter Callinicos had been contacted by Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu and Principal Family Court Judge Jackie Moran while the 'Moana' case was still being heard.

Judge Callinicos was presiding over the Family Court case in Napier, which involved Oranga Tamariki staff wanting to remove a Māori girl, referred to as Moana, from the custody of a Pakeha couple.

Oranga Tamariki's former acting chief executive Sir Wira Gardiner contacted the Chief District Court Judge and the Principal Family Court Judge with concerns about the way Judge Callinicos had questioned Oranga Tamariki staff, alleging his bullying behaviour had left his staff distressed. It was then that Judges Taumaunu and Moran contacted Judge Callinicos.

In its preliminary report, seen by RNZ, the JCC found Judge Taumaunu and Judge Moran did not act inappropriately. Ritchie referred the matter to the Chief Justice to deal with and suggested judicial guidelines be reviewed and improved in regards to intervention by Heads of Bench when proceedings had not been completed. Ritchie did not seek comment from Judge Callinicos in his investigations.

Tony Ellis

Tony Ellis has filed a new complaint Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

RNZ can now reveal that yesterday human rights lawyer Tony Ellis filed a new complaint, having already previously raised concerns. His new complaint against Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann and Justice William Young alleged they did not disclose to Judge Callinicos's lawyers that they had been involved in behind the scene discussions and Justice Young had made his own conclusions about Judge Callinicos's behaviour without giving him a chance to comment.

Ellis also asked Ritchie to recuse himself from hearing his new complaint because his decision to refer his previous complaint to Justice Winklemann "irrevocably compromised" his independence.

"I was more than surprised with your decision, which I consider irrevocably compromised your own independence," Ellis wrote.

He said Judge Callinicos sought assistance from the Chief Justice to protect his independence from the influence he believed was being "improperly" placed on him by Judge Taumaunu and Judge Moran.

Documents seen by RNZ show Justice Young concluded "there was an apparent pattern of bullying".

Ellis' complaint said: "Justice William Young, in reaching a conclusion that Judge Callinicos had made comments that were disproportionate and inappropriate, made gratuitous criticisms, and engaged in what appears to be bullying, following an investigation which did not seek input from Judge Callinicos, and taking no action to seek such input himself, this undermined judicial independence."

Ellis believed the Chief Justice's concurrence compounded the error.

He asked Ritchie to recuse himself. "As these complaints relate to a decision you have made, and a process you have followed, I begin by addressing your need to recuse yourself from considering this complaint," Ellis said.

Ritchie's approach had created a "scandal" implicating not only Judge Taumaunu and Judge Moran but also the Chief Justice and Justice William Young, the second highest ranking Supreme Court judge, Ellis said.

"If my original complaint warranted referral to the Chief Justice as you referred it, this complaint is of a different and greater magnitude on the issue of judicial independence, and is of profound constitutional importance."

Judge Callinicos and his lawyer have been approached for comment.

Justice Winkelmann, Justice Young, Judge Moran and Judge Taumaunu told RNZ they were not able to comment on Ellis' complaint given it was before the JCC.

The JCC was also approached for comment.

*This article has been shortened since it was first published.


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