Venning, Geoffrey John

High Court Justice Geoffrey VENNING

Professional Data:

2014 Judge Survey Score (1-10):  7.3    Ranking (out of 63): 47th Justice Geoffrey Venning.photo

Postion & Titles: past scheduling judge of the Auckland High Court
Judge of: High Court Auckland, since 2002 Previously a Master of the High Court
Specializations and Professional Interests: Litigation
Professional Comments: Nicknamed “G-man”; an obvious play on Justice Venning’s first name but also reflective of the judge’s tendency to put the interests of the State bureaucracy ahead of the law and open justice. One well placed barrister, who has appeared before the judge often, characterises Justice Venning’s conflicting attributes aptly, “He hasn’t met a law yet that he couldn’t breach with a smile on his face.”Justice Venning is very clever. He is also prone to instill personal bias into proceedings by setting subtle traps for counsel. Fearless promoter of Crown interests, Justice Venning has changed dramatically in the years since his appointment. In his early years he was very cognizant of appearing to be fair from the bench.Justice Venning can be audacious in pursuit of personal interests which conflict with his judicial funtion.  These conflicts of interest in cases over which Venning J has presided are unrivalled even for New Zealand.

Between 2010 and 2012 Venning J faced three major scandals as a result of alleged conflict of interest and bias.  In 2010, his failure to divulge an outside directorship and investment in a forest tax shelter became public.  Three businessmen filed complaints with the Judicial Conduct Commissioner in relation to Venning J’s refusal to disqualify himself from presiding in Muir v Commissioner of Inland Revenue in 2005. which concerned a competing forestry tax shelter. In response to the misconduct complaint, the Judge claimed ignorance of s4(2)A of the Judicature Act, which requires judges not to hold outside office without permission of the Chief High Court Judge, claiming other judges are equally guilty.

In September 2012, Venning J ran afoul of climate change opponents who alleged Venning J’s personal financial investment in an Emission Trading Scheme which sells carbon credits for profit precluded his presiding over judicial review proceedings brought by New Zealand Science Education Trust against the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).  The claim challenged NIWA conclusions and sought public release of research documents.  Venning J dismissed the application.

In November 2012, Venning J summarily dismissed a breach of contract and Fair Trading Act claim brought by developer Warren Taylor on application of the defendant Bank of New Zealand by evading the pleaded facts and evidence.  To discourage appeal, Venning cleverly stated his “analysis” was sufficient to grant the defendant a strike out of the claim if summary judgment proved unavailable, before adding he would additionally order security for costs of $25,000 against Taylor if he was able to overcome the judgment bar to sue the BNZ.  This resulted in a further complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner that Venning’s personal conflicts resulted in contravention of the plaintiff’s elementary rights to be heard.

In 2007, in an appeal case which has become the standard in New Zealand in evaluating judicial conflict of interest, the Court of Appeal determined Venning J’s conflict did not rise to the level of disqualification. Details surfaced later that this ruling was unsafe due to a failure of Justice Venning to disclose his full interest to the Court of Appeal.

Some of Venning J’s judicial colleagues fear he is a loose cannon but feel powerless to challenge him because he knows to much of the courts’ dirty laundry and is considered smart and brazen enough to dish out the scandal if personally challenged.

Background / Education: Completed a double major B Comm in 1978 at the University of Canterbury followed by an LLB (1st Class Hons) in 1981. From 1982 to 1986 he tutored part-time in commercial law at the University. He became a litigation partner at the Christchurch law firm of Wynn Williams and Co in 1986. He was appointed a master of the High Court in 1995 based in Christchurch. He subsequently moved to Auckland in November 2002 to take up a position as a High Court judge.
Degrees:  BComm. Canterbury, 1978, LLB (1st Hons.) Canterbury 1981
Admitted to the Bar: 1982
Company Involvements: Former director of Hoystead Investments, which is a shareholder with Fogarty J’s Casterton InvestmentsLtd in Ngaio Point Ltd.
Personal Data
Born: 1956
New Zealand
Sex: Male
Married: 19 Children:
Interesting Relationships and Coincidences:
Miscellaneous:  Has been part time instructor, Canterbury University