Official comments from the United Kingdom lauding the appointment of New Zealand High Court Justice Lowell Goddard to head an Inquiry into child sexual abuse have legal doyens in New Zealand privately scratching their heads.
Goddard J scored dead last in the 2014 Judge Survey Results in New Zealand, with many lawyers extremely critical of Lowell’s opportunistic public stances, liberties with the truth and contrarian judgments.
But let us not be burdened by the empirical evidence when we should celebrate Home Secretary Theresa May appointing any Kiwi after the first two appointees (Fiona Woolf and Elizabeth Butler-Sloss) crashed and burned. Labour MP Simon Danczuk also released a statement saying, “It is obvious that the home secretary has cast the net far and wide in order to find an appropriate person and I applaud her for doing so.”
‘Far and wide’? Certainly ‘far’. But let the Brits learn first-hand the hazards of deep sea fishing. Too often you risk pulling up useless debris from the bottom because you capriciously cast your net in shallow waters.
The big question in the U.K. must be why Home Secretary Theresa May picked Goddard when her due diligence determined lawyers in New Zealand broadly consider Ms Goddard a political puppet. Question asked and answered?
One can only hope no prohibition on investigative reporting of Goddard J exists in the U.K. as there is at home where the honourable judge writes her own press and zealously orchestrates her public image. Her resume says she is at the forefront of human rights and women’s rights and Maori rights. A more impeccably manicured person you will likely never see. Busy lady.
Contrast Goddard J’s facade with her legacy. She was appointed to the Independent Police Conduct Authority after she complained sitting on long cases in the High Court was too stressful on her back. Her days on the IPCA were mired in secrecy, political manoeuvring and tardy rulings. She routinely sided with Crown immunity, suppression of information and against human rights. Even where public pressure was so great as to force a ruling police had acted oppressively, as in police restraints on peaceful protests during the 1999 visit of the Chinese President, her finding was released 8 years after the fact.
Ever the equal opportunity disheveller, Lowell Goddard had a hand in derailing at least one police investigation into criminal judicial conduct, in 1994, when she was deputy solicitor general. In 2007 she helped appoint the alleged criminal offender (Michael Lance) as her deputy at the IPCA (refer to story on Judge Michael Lance in Goddard J’s bio). Her deputy was soon forced to resign after being criminally charged by police for keying cars in front of his apartment. The Hansard (Parliamentary) record recorded at the time Goddard and the Chief Justice “recommend (Michael Lance) as a sound appointment choice”.
So what did the Home Secretary mean when she assured MPs this week that Goddard’s Inquiry will not be thwarted by the Official Secrets Act in an investigation which will delve into governmental department files in circumstances where there appears to be complicity by officials in the scandal? A hint might lie in comments of the ‘fixer’ Home Secretary May has appointed. “The inquiry will be long, challenging and complex,” forewarned Goddard J.
Experience tells us you can take Goddard J’s assessment to the bank. Hopefully the British prefer an exhaustive and complex inquiry to an accurate and transparent outcome.