Thursday, November 03, 2011


Congrats to the University of Auckland Law School on starting the New Zealand Supreme Court Blog. I enjoyed the analysis of Elias CJ's discussion of what academics call the third source of governmental power in Hamed v R.

I wonder if judges anonymously create their own blog sites and comment on each other's judgments. Perhaps they could adopt noms de keyboard and post rebuttals of critical assessments of their work.

I don't allow comments because my early experience was that they are just irritating, whether from judges or not.

Anyway, the new blog is off to a promising start, so I have added a link to it. This does not mean that I agree with its criticism of the CJ's judgment. It is possible that law schools still place emphasis on technical legal reasoning - identification of the ratio of a decision, recognition of precedents, distinguishing or applying other cases - which is formalist, at the expense of policy reasoning which is essentially pragmatic. The Supreme Court is a policy court. It is not bound by decisions of other courts, and is probably not even bound by its own decisions. It is concerned with finding the best solution to legal problems in the light of the judicially-perceived policy that best serves the current needs of our society. If it gets that wrong, the legislature can intervene.

Posner, in "How Judges Think" at 220-221 is particularly good on this topic, as are generally his chapters 7 and 8.

So, what sort of society do we want to live in? One where the police can approach people at random and ask if they may search their bags? People who think that the executive can do anything that is not specifically proscribed would have to accept that sort of society. Or do we prefer a society in which the police can only put questions to people when they have lawful authority to do so? I think our desire for freedom from executive interference supports this alternative. As it happened, the CJ did not support her conclusion with policy reasoning other than in a broad sense by reference to the significance of the Bill of Rights. Her formalist approach to what was essentially a question of pragmatism might reflect the schoolroom (but I prefer to doubt that), and has drawn formalist criticism. Both her approach and the criticism have mis-fired here.

I should add, while I am in this mood to be helpful, that a prime illustration of formalism being developed to an academic extreme and then discarded in favour of pragmatism is Field v R, discussed here on 27 October 2011.