The role of judges is to serve the public. All judges do this by applying the law — which is made by the democratic legislature — in a way which gives everyone a fair hearing. Many judges also find other ways to serve their communities.
Judges often work alongside community group to enhance their understanding of New Zealand’s justice system. For example, many judges spend time talking to schools or other community groups about the work they do. Many judges are active in their local communities through charitable organisations, sports clubs and educational institutions. In order to preserve their independence, however, judges do not generally comment on judicial decisions or political matters.
The District Court Judiciary acknowledges the values of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Judges participate in noho marae and to learn te reo Māori. All court announcements are made in te reo Māori and in some courts, particularly the Rangatahi and Matariki Courts, principles of tikanga Māori may be applied.
An example of District Court community involvement is the Northland “Judges in Schools” programme:
Given what I considered to be a lack of comprehension of the role of a judge, I decided that there was a need for judges to become more open about how they operate. One of the ways to do that was for judges to go out into the community. “Judges in Schools” was born.
Initially three schools were visited. My colleagues in Whangarei and I have now expanded the programme. We intend to give most if not all of the secondary schools in Northland the opportunity of having a judge speak to student groups. We co-ordinate the visits so as to not disrupt the business of the court.
The feedback has been extremely positive. The students are enthusiastic and thoughtful questions are asked. I have confidence that those students will in the future examine comments on Judges and the courts more critically.
Judge Duncan Harvey
District Court at Whangarei