No Remedy to Unlawful Acts of Registrars, Judge Rules

Wellington Justice David Collins ruled this month that administrative decisions of Court of Appeal and Supreme Court RegistrarsD_Collins close affecting the public at large are not judicially reviewable.  The Judgment’s reasoning: Registrars act “under the supervision of the Judges who comprise the Court”.

The judgment summarily struck out a judicial review of the Supreme Court Registrar’s order of general prohibition against public record access at the Supreme Court.  Currently no one is allowed access to applications and submissions in appeals the Supreme Court rejects without hearing.

The ruling, Rabson v Registrar of the Supreme Court , turned New Zealand’s jurisprudence on its ear.  Parliament had ‘guaranteed’ judicial review against Crown decisions in enacting section 27 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.  Collins J ignored the Bill of Rights Act 1990 in his judgment analysis while accepting no alternative remedy in law may be available.  The ruling now places New Zealand’s Supreme Court registrars, and likely Court of Appeal registrars, above the law.  In February, in Siemer v Registrar of the Supreme Court [2015] NZSC 21, the Supreme Court declared its own jurisdiction to review decisions by its Registrar was “doubtful” unless the decision concerned a substantive matter currently before the Court.

In an answer to an Official Information Act request last year, the Ministry of Justice responded the number of NZ Court of Appeal registrars fluctuates depending upon the needs of the Court.

New Zealand has a history of Registrars engaging in rule of law breaches.  In R v Taito [2002] 3 NZLR 577, the Privy Council found rule of law breaches were systemic at the New Zealand Court of Appeal.

In 2004, the New Zealand Supreme Court replaced the Privy Council as the final court in New Zealand.

Rabson is set to appeal the decision.

Prior to Collins’ ruling, a remedy in law was crucial to maintaining a lawful right.  In paragraph [17] of the judgment, Collins accepted this rudimentary legal principle – before ignoring his ruling violated this principle.

In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled in Attorney-General v Chapman [2011] NZSC 110 that the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act was not enforceable against judges despite the plain wording of section 3 which declared it was.  At least on paper, judges are still accountable under the Act to each other.  Collins’ judgment leapfrogged the Supreme Court Registrars one step further, exempting them from judicial review under the Act and conceding they may not be accountable to judges within their own court (i.e. anyone).

Mr Rabson has also appealed directly to the Supreme Court on the ground the Court relies ad nauseam on Parliament’s supremacy when it suits their strict interpretation of limits to court access and on rights generally, while Collins’ judgment ignored a legislated right and remedy in a piece of dominant legislation concerning administrative actions of their own registar.