High Court Justice Mathew Downs

Justice Downs, Mathew 

Professional Data:

2014 Judge Survey Score (not listed)Justice Matthew Downs

Postion & Titles:  Crown Law prosecutor
Judge of: High Court, since 2016 Auckland
Specializations and Professional Interests:  Criminal law, Academia
Professional Comments:  As a Crown lawyer who routinely opposed appeals on grounds the due process breach at trial would not have changed the outcome, Downs found the section of the law he sought to promote s (385(1) of the Crimes Act) provided vast discretion to the Courts and was founded on little underlying published legal theory.  This prompted Downs to undertake his PhD thesis No substantial miscarriage of justice: the history and application of the proviso to Section 385(1) of the Crimes Act 1961.
Background / Education: Justice Downs graduated with an LLB(Hons) from Otago University in 1993, an LLM(Hons) from Cambridge University in 2001 and a Doctorate in Law from Otago University in 2011.He joined the Crown Law Office in 1994, taking up a position as a prosecutor in the Palmerston North Crown Solicitor’s office in 1996. He remained there until he joined the Auckland Crown Solicitor’s office Meredith Connell in 2003. Justice Downs returned to Crown Law in early 2005 as a Crown Counsel in the Criminal Law Team. In 2013 he was promoted to the position of Senior Crown Counsel.

Justice Downs has specialised in criminal law and has appeared extensively in the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. He has also been a guest lecturer at the universities of Auckland and Otago.

When John Barlow appealed his conviction for the murders of Gene and Eugene Thomas on the grounds that one aspect of the scientific evidence was misleading, the Privy Council agreed with him. But it dismissed his appeal anyway.

In doing so, the court was exercising its power to uphold a jury’s decision, even where process has been breached, if it believes it wouldn’t have affected the outcome.

It’s a provision which, as a lawyer for the Crown Law Office, Mathew Downs would often argue that the court should invoke. “But the more I called for appeals to be dismissed, the more questions I had about this provision. It really gives the court an enormous amount of power, and I wanted to know more about how it was applied.”

So it was “part professional need, part curiosity” that led him to embark on a PhD on the proviso to section 385(1) of the Crimes Act. As an alumnus of Otago’s Faculty of Law, it never occurred to Mathew to study elsewhere: “I knew the Department, and I knew Professor Kevin Dawkins would be an excellent supervisor. Everyone was very enthusiastic about my topic – it was great to be back.”

Degrees: LLB(Hons) from Otago University in 1993,
LLM(Hons) from Cambridge University in 2001
Doctorate in Law from Otago University in 2011
Admitted to the Bar: 1993
Company Involvements: None listed

Personal Data

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