Sex-case athlete's bid to get judge to step aside thrown out

Author
John Weekes, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 23 Jul 2021, 6:42PM
Defence and prosecution lawyers should be able to discuss topical justice issues publicly if it helps inform the public, a new judgment has found. Photo / Nick Reed
Defence and prosecution lawyers should be able to discuss topical justice issues publicly if it helps inform the public, a new judgment has found. Photo / Nick Reed

Sex-case athlete's bid to get judge to step aside thrown out

Author
John Weekes, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 23 Jul 2021, 6:42PM

An athlete's bid to have his sex charge trial judge step aside over a TV interview and her links to prosecutors has been rejected.

The sportsman wanted Judge Kirsten Lummis to recuse herself from the trial, for reasons including remarks in 2019 about low conviction rates in similar cases.

He took his case to the High Court after Judge Lummis last month declined to disqualify herself from the upcoming trial.

Judge Lummis mentioned the TVNZ show in her decision, saying: "I need to examine my role in signing the Crown prosecution notice and the John Campbell interview."

The Breakfast show discussed how 76 per cent of all adult prosecutions the year before led to convictions, compared to 51 per cent of sexual assault and related cases.

"We're still coming up against victim-blaming," Lummis said in the interview when she was a prosecutor at Meredith Connell.

In the new judgment sent to the Herald today, the High Court judge said Lummis was speaking generally to media then, not in relation to the sportsman's case.

It was common for news media to seek the views of Crown and defence lawyers on topical issues about criminal justice, the new High Court judgment added.

"Counsel are often prepared to accede to such requests in order to contribute to and inform public awareness and debate of those issues."

The 2019 Breakfast TV comments did not mean Judge Lummis was now incapable of presiding impartially over the sportsman's trial, the High Court added.

The sportsman's defence team also argued Judge Lummis was possibly too close to prosecutors in the case.

In the new judgment, the High Court said people who had worked at Crown Solicitors' offices were frequently appointed as judges.

Judge Lummis also disclosed previously she had been the trial prosecutor's supervising partner.

Another argument, about the judge previously signing a document known as the Crown Prosecution Notice, was also dismissed.

The athlete's trial on charges including indecent assaults and strangulation is due to start next week at the Sexual Violence Pilot Court.