Baffling Judge Charles Blackie a Stain on Undistinguished Judiciary

Judge Charles Blackie

Even by New Zealand standards where two-thirds of our current judges were appointed by one unelected list MP (Chris Finlayson) in a behind closed door process, Judge Charles Blackie epitomizes meritless appointments.  

As with many NZ judges, Blackie’s spouse is also a judge – and typical for judicial appointees they have different surnames to give an appearance the judiciary is less incestuous.

Charles Blackie and wife Maureen Southwick are both District Court judges in Manukau.  Judge Southwick was appointed because she tired of answering Law Society complaints and paying malpractice settlements.  Upon her warrant appointment she was object of a high-profile kerfuffle as lawyer for Libby Black in her divorce from rich-lister Peter Goodfellow.  Three years into her divorce, after 25 years of marriage, Ms Black owed her estranged husband court costs for unsuccessful applications, she had no access to their joint bank accounts, the marital home remained in a Goodfellow trust, and the court even issued a restraining order preventing Libby from drinking any wine from the couple’s $500,000 wine-cellared inventory.  

And Maureen is the smart one in this judicial union.

Notwithstanding 20+ years’ experience as a New Zealand judge dealing primarily with criminal matters, Judge Blackie‘s ignorance of elementary law was on display in Police v Siemer [2018] NZDC 24353. 

Disclosure: the writer and kiwisfirst publisher was the loser in this criminal prosecution although Judge Blackie’s nine-page grammar-challenged judgment lacked any conviction or sentence. 

Judge Blackie found the layperson Lawyers Disciplinary Tribunal had issued an order “against the world” suppressing their finding Lawyer Neil Wells defrauded “a vulnerable elderly woman and long-time friend with some cognitive impairment”, after citing Mr Wells’ “lack of insight or remorse” and fining him $25,700 compensation and costs.

Publisher Vince Siemer is the second blogger found to have criminally breached this non-existent suppression order.  Former police prosecutor and transparency blogger Grace Haden was fined $6,000 after all her appeals failed. 

Under cross-examination in the Siemer trial the sole witness for the prosecution admitted police had been put on notice on three occasions prior to trial that no such suppression order existed but Policed chose not to address this defence because (according to the witness) “I was advised to follow what (Hastings police) were doing and they’ve gone with this and done that case and then I was following suit and I think I may have mentioned to you, in regards, to Grace Haden, who you reference in your blog, and you talked about that.”

Question to prosecution witness: “So, you’re not of any independent mind that there was an order, you were just following the directions of somebody down in Napier, Hastings, is that correct?”

A. “Yes, as I say, I haven’t had experience with this type of ruling previously.”

Q. “Would it surprise you to know that for an order to exist it has to be actually ordered, not just mentioned as justified?”

A. “It doesn’t surprise me, no.”

Police prosecutor James Gallagher had an emotional meltdown after Blackie voiced his concerns the supposed order lacked essential ingredients to bind non-parties and a heavily redacted anonymous letter the police produced halfway through trial was insufficient evidence Mr Wells was personally subject to any suppression.  

After Gallagher implored the judge reconsider on the basis Ms Haden had already been convicted and lost her appeal on the same charge and evidence, Blackie declared an adjournment to consider his options.

Judge Blackie was sent a memorandum after the prosecution rested advising him a certain path to appeal would result from the Court’s inability to cite the alleged suppression order.   In his ruling Blackie stated only “the order for name suppression forms part” of the 24 November 2016 LDT decision – a reference to the LDT’s decision to anonymize Mr Wells name with the moniker “M” in its process after Mr Wells obtained a doctor’s note advising he was too ill to suffer the embarrassment of his fraud becoming public.  

Under s240 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006, only the Lawyer’s Tribunal or High Court can revoke or modify the order Blackie claimed had been criminally breached by the article he republished.  Blackie stated the information “is in the public domain” but no court made this finding, he did not apply this same rational to the accused and his unreasoned explanation was beyond the jurisdiction of a District Court judge to state with effect.

Orders purporting to bind the world to secrecy are commonplace in New Zealand but, as we have recently seen in the Grace Millane murder, largely ignored by the rest of the world.  By law such secrecy orders must be made with detailed specificity and care and must weigh the public’s right to know and disseminate information under s14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 against the need for suppression in each circumstance. 

Every New Zealand court so far has refused to address the lay Tribunal’s failure to consider any reciprocal legal right to access and disseminate information in this case where the subject lawyer was found guilty of defrauding his client.