Winkelmann appointed chief justice

Access to justice advocate takes top job.
Justice Helen Winkelmann will replace Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias early next year.

Court of Appeal Justice Helen Winkelmann has been promoted to the top legal job in the country, chief justice of New Zealand.

Justice Winkelmann will take office from March next year following the retirement of Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias.

The former head of the High Court was widely tipped for the job as was ent Court of Appeal president Justice Stephen Kos.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says in a statement that the judge is recognised for her superior intellect and strong leadership.

“The consultation process highlighted the enormous esteem Justice Winkelmann is held in by the legal community. There was a high degree of consensus from all quarters for her appointment.”

While there is no statutory process for the appointment, solicitor-general Una Jagose QC consulted the current chief justice, retired senior court judges, the NZ Law Society, the NZ Bar Association and the Maori Law Society.

A panel compromising former governor-general Dame Silvia Cartwright and former Supreme Court judge Sir Terence Arnold then considered consultation feedback.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges released a statement congratulating the judge.

“New Zealanders can have confidence that Justice Winkelmann will continue the fine tradition of chief justices in New Zealand upholding the rule of law and ensuring due process,” Mr Bridges says.

Justice Winkelmann is most noted for her 2014 Ethel Benjamin lecture in which the judge implored her audience to consider access to justice in civil cases.

The judge said rising court fees meant that courts were “regarded as a luxury service for which users should pay.”

In a speech she herself termed “provocative,” she pushed for pro bono advice and said the profession needed to be more innovative. Justice Kos’ later speeches on access to justice would refer back to this landmark address.

On appointment, the judge said she intends to continue her focus on issues affecting people’s ability to access the courts to seek justice.
“Access to justice is the critical underpinning of the rule of law in our society: it is the notion that all, the good, the bad, the weak, the powerful, exist under and are bound by the law. That condition cannot exist without access to courts, and without the ability to obtain a just resolution of claims before those courts. Cost, delay and a lack of representation all can act as barriers to justice.”

Legal commentator Andrew Geddis says Justice Winkelmann is a sound legal mind who would help maintain a female majority on the Supreme Court. He adds the appointment of the former Phillips Fox partner would help reflect the changing gender of the profession – there are now more women than men.

Justices Graphic


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