Eight days in to the nationwide category 4 lockdown, tensions are running high within the Supreme Court “bubble”. Having opted to isolate together within the Supreme Court building in Wellington, the six members of the Court now face at least three more increasingly fractious weeks together.
The initial decision to spend the four weeks together was driven by the Chief Justice’s determination that, as an essential service, the Supreme Court would continue to operate. At the time the lockdown was initiated the Supreme Court lacked remote working capability as Glazebrook J had lost the charger for the Court’s shared, Ministry-provided Nokia 2280. That prompted a decision that the members of the Court would form a bubble together that would be based in their chambers in the Supreme Court.
To outward appearances that decision has seemed to work well, with the Supreme Court continuing to issue leave decisions and a substantive decision in Lodge Real Estate Ltd v Commerce Commission  NZSC 25. However, individual members of the Court, contacting this blog under conditions of anonymity, have indicated that close confinement with their judicial colleagues is proving difficult for members of the Court.
“I’ll tell you what’s not an essential service,” said one member of the Court, “and that’s William Young J playing Kenny Rogers songs on full blast in his chambers. Or the time when Ellen France J did the shopping and bought blue top milk.”
“I could be at home with my family during all of this,” said another. “Instead, the Chief Justice is making us all bed down every night in sleeping bags spread out around the seats in the courtroom.”
“The only reason that there weren’t five separate judgments in Lodge Real Estate was because we had written most of it before the lockdown. It’s like the old saying about joining an appellate court: at the start of your time you figure you must be wrong, but the longer you spend the more you realise that no it’s actually your colleagues.”
The Ministry of Justice is currently exploring upgrading the Court’s Netflix subscription so that it can be played on more than two devices at the same time. This is said to be essential as “everyone but Helen has seen season three of The Crown and no one wants to watch it again”.
In a further letter to the profession expected to be issued on Monday, Chief Justice Winkelmann will write that “New Zealand courts must continue to uphold the
rule of law and to ensure that fair trial rights, the right to natural justice and rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act are upheld, as well as ensuring that no dirty dishes are left in the common room sink, Ellen.”