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Judicial Conduct in a Very Small Place: Some Contextual Questions

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This article is anchored in two recent examples of judicial conduct from New Zealand. In the first example judicial officers became directly involved in the legislative process. In the second example two judges were found to have filed false travel expense claims. One resigned and pleaded guilty to fraud, the other denied any criminality and continues to sit as a judge. Those examples are used to provoke thought on two related contentions: first, that judicial conduct is based on ethical judgments which are shaped by context, in particular, the New Zealand context, which is in many ways quite unique; and secondly, that the conduct of judges is often measured not by reference to the act itself, but rather by reference to all available information regarding what kind of person that the judge is— virtuous or wicked. This article is preliminary in character. It outlines the elements of New Zealand society, the legal profession and the judiciary which are peculiar. It then considers the incidents mentioned which suggest that particular problems arise for the New Zealand judiciary. One possible result of this analysis, if accepted, is an acknowledgment that judicial ethics are not amenable to rules or principles of a universal character in the way that some would argue. Rather, each jurisdiction must appraise its needs in light of the social and political context and regulate accordingly.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2003

More about this publication?
  • Legal Ethics is an international and interdisciplinary journal devoted to the field of legal ethics.
    The journal provides an intellectual meeting ground for academic lawyers, practitioners and policy-makers to debate developments shaping the ethics of law and its practice at the micro and macro levels.
    Its focus is broad enough to encompass empirical research on the ethics and conduct of the legal professions and judiciary, studies of legal ethics education and moral development, ethics development in contemporary professional practice, the ethical responsibilities of law schools, professional bodies and government, and jurisprudential or wider philosophical reflections on law as an ethical system and on the moral obligations of individual lawyers.

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