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Tony Christiansen: Judge accused of indecent assault


This page last updated Nov 26 2008


November 2008

    Judge Tony Christiansen

An inappropriate kiss, or an indecent assault?.  The table and news reports below show the conflicting evidence, which is an an all too common sort of scenario in allegations of sexual abuse.

Unfortunately sex abuse does occur: Is she telling the truth, and he lying?
False allegations are also common: Is he telling the truth, and she lying?

There is, surprisingly a third option:  That both are telling the truth. The story that he tells is true. And that she is also telling a story that she honestly believes is the truth.  Memory research in the last ten years (for example at Victoria University) provides evidence that people can believe for various reasons, events that have not actually happened.  Is her story contaminated by dreams, or counsellor intervention?

There is no easy way for outsiders to determine what has actually occurred, without some means of corroborating the various stories.  It’s a tragic outcome for those who are victims of abuse, or for those who are victims of false allegations.  The possibility of the third option above is probably just as offensive to the person who in that case is unwittingly making a false allegation.

If, as outsiders, we cannot know, we can do better than taking the easy route of simply “believing her” or “believing him”.  We can try and understand the trauma and heartache that one of the participants is feeling as a victim of a serious crime. We can simply suspend judgment, and get on with the job of caring and leave the possibility of closure to those with the responsibility or the desire to investigate.

We say to the complainant, and to Tony Christiansen that we do not judge you, or offer you the illusion of “belief”

Lastly, this site is taking the unusual position of withholding the name of the complainant in this case, even though she voluntarily went public with her allegations.  This site, however takes no position on the truth or otherwise of any allegations in this case




Table: Determining truth from He says: She says

Undisputed facts

The complainant and two other female probation officers from Napier were in town on business and they decided to have a night out at the restaurant. They struck up a conversation with Judge Christiansen who was also there on a business trip.

The women invited the judge to join them.

She says they drank quite a bit of alcohol and that he was drinking and buying his own.

She says she was quite intoxicated and after about three hours the group went from the restaurant across the water and back to the motel where they are all staying

She says she couldn't find her key and her colleague collected a spare from the front office.

She says everyone came into her room and she was put to bed in an intoxicated state.

At this period of her life, she was taking sleeping tablets on and off. She is not sure whether she might have taken one that night along with alcohol.

She says

She remembers "waking up in the early hours of the morning... and finding him kneeling on the floor touching my private parts".

She recognised his voice

She remembers him "kneeling on the floor touching my private parts"

She says she didn't scream or shout but just "went numb and into shock".

She says she told him: "Don't do that. Don't do that... I've got my period".

With that, she claims the judge left immediately.

Seven months after the incident she entered mediation with him, with her counsellor acting as mediator. She asked the judge for financial help. He wrote out a $10,000 cheque to her

Asked if he made any pre-conditions, she says she signed a letter. Her recollection of what she signed is vague but the mediator, who was also her counsellor at the time, had a copy of the agreement.

He says

He returned to the motel room, "knocked on the door and enquired whether the complainant was well".

He says she invited him in. He says he sat on her bed and shortly afterwards they kissed each other.

He realised the inappropriateness of what was occurring and "left the room of his own volition".

He strenuously denies the claims of indecent assault and is confident that proper investigation will show that he is innocent.

His lawyer said that he paid her $10,000 late in 2001 after the second of two mediations. He could not disclose what the payment was for, as the content of mediation sessions was confidential






20 October 2004; Judge returns to court work

High Court associate judge Tony Christiansen, cleared of an indecent assault allegation in August, has returned to in-court duties

2004-1020 - The Dominion Post - Judge in assault claim returns to court

9 August 2004; Decision made not to prosecute Christiansen

Police have decided not to prosecute High Court Master and former Napier District Court judge Tony Christiansen

Napier area commander Inspector Kevin Kalff said  "The decision was obviously not taken lightly and was made on the basis of legal advice which had been independently peer reviewed,"

A spokesman for the Courts Department says Master Christiansen continues to hold a warrant as a judge of the High Court, but would not say if he would resume sitting

2004-0809 - Stuff - High Court Master won't be prosecuted over sex accusation

2004-0809 - One News - Former judge won't be prosecuted

2004-0809 - Newstalk ZB - No prosecution in judge case

2004-0809 - Newstalk ZB - Judge's future not revealed

2004-0810 - The Dominion Post - High Court judge not to be charged

20 July 2004; Investigation into indecent assault continue

Associate High Court Judge Anthony Christiansen, of Christchurch, remains on full pay but with restricted duties seven months after police launched an investigation into a claim he indecently assaulted a Napier woman in 2001. Napier police said yesterday investigations were still continuing.

2004-0720 - Otago Daily Times - Investigations into indecent assault claim continue

2004-0720 - The Press - Judge on full pay as assault claim examined

2004-0727 - Newstalk ZB - Ongoing investigation into complaint over judge

10 June 2004 ; Former Probation Officer loses case

A former Napier Probation Officer has lost her case against the Department of Corrections for unjustifiable dismissal.

She had claimed that the Department had treated her unfairly and ended her employment unnecessarily after she alleged she was sexually assaulted by a judge. She was claiming $50,000 from the department, which medically retired her after she had been on sick leave for over a year. She also claimed that she suffered ostracism and emotional abuse from other staff in the Napier office. She claimed the alleged assault was discussed openly among staff.

The department argued that it took several steps to support Ms Neilson after the alleged incident.

Paul Stapp from the authority says after weighing the evidence he is satisfied the department's actions didn't prevent her returning to work and the department could support its decision to retire her. Corrections management had tried to manage an unanticipated event the best way they could. The department was not only faced with the complainant’s allegation, but was also required to manage a "divisive office environment". Mr Stapp said the department provided assistance to the complainant with leave and topped up her salary and continued to employ her when she was not at work.

The complainant expressed her shock at the decision. She said it was "a kick in the guts" and she was determined to appeal against it in the Employment Court. "I'm going the whole hog now. I will go to the very last step for justice," she said.

Meanwhile, police are still investigating allegations of sexual assault against Christiansen.

2004-0610 - One News - Former Probation Officer loses case

2004-0610 - Newstalk ZB - Probation officer loses grievance case

2004-0610 - The Dominion Post - Ex-officer loses grievance case

2004-0611 - Newstalk ZB - Police still investigating judge

2004-0611 - The Dominion Post - Former officer weighs up options

2004-0611 - NZ Herald - Ex-probation officer loses grievance case

2004-0612 - Otago Daily Times - Probation officer loses Corrections grievance

2004-0615 - The Dominion Post - Ex-probation officer to appeal against ruling

30 April 2004; Employment Relations Authority hearing.

An Employment Relations Authority hearing was held yesterday as part of the complainant’s personal grievance claim against the Corrections Department.

She claims the department did not adequately support her after the incident and that impacted on her recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder and prolonged her return to work indefinitely. The department denies any wrongdoing and claims it did everything to support her till it had no choice but to dismiss her.

She claimed the incident was discussed openly by staff at a department-convened meeting at which she was named as the victim. "The anger of some of my male colleagues was obvious to all, eg. `he was a good judge, why should he resign'?"

2004-0501 - The Dominion Post - Motel incident with judge led to isolation

2 March 2004; Case discussed in Parliament

Judith Collins asked questions in Parliament about the appointment of Christiansen to the High Court. Attorney-General Margaret Wilson says she believed Tony Christiansen, since accused of indecent assault, was "worth a second chance" when she appointed him to the High Court.

Judith Collins from National asked "Why was it appropriate for him to resign before and suddenly he was back as a judicial officer?

2004-0302 - NZ Parliament - Master of the High Court - Appointment

2004-0303 - NZ Herald - Former judge 'worth a second chance'

2004-0303 - NZ Herald - Revenge: a dish served cold

2004-0313 - The Press - Judges under scrutiny

2 March 2004; Complainant also seeking money from Corrections Department

The complainant in the case is also taking legal action against the Corrections Department. is seeking $50,000 from the department in an unjustifiable dismissal claim which the Employment Relations Authority is to hear

2004-0302 - NZ Herald - Probation officer seeks $50,000 for indecent assault

28 February 2004; Details of allegations

The complainant has told TV One that Mr Christiansen entered her Gisborne motel room while she was asleep and indecently assaulted her. She recalled waking up to find  him “kneeling on the floor, touching my private parts. I did not invite him into my room and wouldn't have had such a strong reaction if it were consensual."

She also claimed that Mr Christiansen gave her a $10,000 cheque seven months after the incident. She said she asked him for financial help after being traumatised and leaving her Napier-based job on extended sick leave. She claims the money was to “buy her silence”. She denies it was the fruit of any blackmail attempt. She now feels she has been colluding and protecting him.

She defended her delay in coming forward. "I believed that no one would believe me, because, to me, what happened was very unbelievable."

Her complaint predated Christiansen’s appointment to the High Court, but views that appointment as a promotion while she had lost her job. "I feel humiliated they have reappointed him and they have not spared me a thought."

Master Christiansen’s lawyer John Billington, QC said Master Christiansen rejected any suggestion he committed a breach of law in 2001, and was confident proper investigation would show that to be the case.

2004-0228 - NZ Herald - Judge gave me cash says woman

2004-0228 - The Dominion Post - Judge paid me $10,000

2004-0228 - Otago Daily Times - Court official sex assault inquiry focus

2004-0229 - One News - Judge sex case complainant talks

2004-0301 - NZ Herald - Woman denies payout blackmail

2004-0301 - Stuff - Woman denies she blackmailed judge

27 February 2004; Woman accuses Christiansen of indecent assault

A former probation officer has gone public with an indecent assault complaint she has made about the actions of Tony Christiansen.. She is due to appear on TV One’s Sunday show discussing the complaint.

Inspector Kevin Kalff, of Napier police, said that Napier CIB were in the final stages of their inquiry into the complaint. The complaint was received in December.

  Dame Sian Elias


Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias said in a statement last night she had been advised of the complaint against Master Tony Christiansen. "In the meantime, with his agreement, he will not be sitting. That is appropriate while the matter is being investigated,”

Attorney-General Margaret Wilson said today she was aware of the Gisborne incident when she approved Mr Christiansen being appointed a Master in the High Court. "At the time I was concerned to ensure that the woman concerned had not laid any complaint and had, in fact, felt that the matter had been settled to her satisfaction," Her concern now is that he should not be subject to trial by media.

The National Party says Christiansen should never have been appointed to the High Court. Judith Collins says the Minister of Justice admitted that the circumstances surrounding the incident could have brought the judiciary into disrepute. In March, Judith Collins

2004-0227 - Hawkes Bay Today - Woman accuses ex-judge of indecent assault

2004-0227 - The Dominion Post - Complaint laid against judge

2004-0227 - The Press - Judge sidelined as police investigate complaint

2004-0227 - Stuff - Court Master Christiansen accused of indecent assault

2004-0227 - One News - Allegations against top judge

2004-0227 - NZ Herald - Woman's complaint to police sidelines court master

2004-0227 - NZ Herald - Police probe top High Court officer

2004-0227 - Newstalk ZB - Police investigate top court officer

2004-0227 - Newstalk ZB - Judge investigation in final stages

2004-0227 - Newstalk ZB - Attorney General defends judge

2004-0227 - National Party - National issued warning about Judge's past last year

2004-0227 - NZ Government - Master Anthony Christiansen

3 February 2003; Christiansen appointed a Master of the High Court

Anthony Christiansen has been appointed a Master of the High Court, Attorney-General Margaret Wilson announced today. Master Christiansen will sit in Christchurch, where he will deal with pre-trial, company and insolvency matters.

The Attorney General, Margaret Wilson, was asked to comment about the appointment. She issued a short statement instead, saying there was nothing out of the ordinary about the decision:

The normal process for judicial appointments was followed. Accordingly the Master’s position was advertised. Anthony Christiansen applied. The Solicitor-General and Chief Justice evaluated all applications against the established appointment criteria.” Following consultation with members of the judiciary and legal fraternity, they recommended his appointment to the attorney-general, confident that he has the skills, knowledge and experience for the job”

Auckland University law school professor Michael Taggart said the appointment, which could be seen as a promotion, required an explanation if it were true the judge had left his previous position under a cloud.

A letter writer in August, Suzanne George makes reference to the appointment suggesting the appointment decision could be due to a shortage of judges

2003-0203 - Stuff - High court master and justice appointed

2003-0204 - NZ Government - Re-Appointment of Master of High Court (Anthony Christiansen)

2003-0204 - Stuff - Judge returns after quitting over behaviour

2003-0204 - Waikato Times - New court master

2003-0205 - Otago Daily Times - Judge's reappointment defended

2003-0205 - The Press - Indiscretion not a bar to Master's role

2003-0205 - Waikato Times - Govt backs judge

2003-0213 - Auckland District Law Society - Christchurch for new Master Christiansen

2003-0825 - Otago Daily Times - Privy council

17 February 2002; Christiansen has new job

Tony Christiansen is now based in Wellington, providing specialist legal advice at the Legal Services Agency. The government agency is responsible for distributing legal aid. Christiansen’s role is leading work on legal policy development

2002-0217 - Sunday Star Times - Fresh start for former judge

2003-0213 - Auckland District Law Society - Christchurch for new Master Christiansen

15 July 2001; Probation officers suspended while conduct investigated

Two probation officers who witnessed an alleged incident between a former judge and a female court worker are under investigation for alleged excessive drinking with the pair in a Gisborne motel.

It is understood that during the course of the investigation, the probation service alleged the officers drank too much and their behaviour potentially brought the department into disrepute. It wants to issue a formal written warning to the pair but the PSA is fighting that. There is no suggestion the probation officers will lose their jobs.

2001-0715 - Sunday Star Times - Probation officers called to account

17 June 2001; Resignation to avoid “bringing judiciary into disrepute”

The Sunday Star Times reported that Tony Christiansen left his job following a complaint by a court worker that he behaved inappropriately in a Gisborne motel room one night in early May. The SST understands the two had been drinking wine and the judge made an advance which was rebuffed.

Acting attorney-general Phil Goff said he was told why the judge resigned, but did not inform the public because the judge left of his own accord and there was no legal action involved. The move was "appropriate and honourable" and brought the matter to a close. Goff understood the complainant did not think further action should be taken following the resignation. He said there may have been different views of what happened but he did not think the judge had done anything which could have resulted in charges. The judge was popular and good at his job, The matter was a "personal tragedy" for Mr Christiansen, the minister said.

2001-0617 - Sunday Star Times - Judge quits after motel incident

2001-0618 - The Press - Judge right to resign, says Goff

2001-0618 - The Dominion - Judge quit over his behaviour, says Goff

2001-0618 - NZ Herald - Hawke's Bay judge right to quit over incident, says Goff

2001-0618 - Otago Daily Times - Judge resigns amid speculation

2001-0618 - Hawkes Bay Today - Former judge asks for 'space and privacy'

2001-0618 - Waikato Times - Judge quit over actions

2001-0618 - Stuff - Judge believed he acted inappropriately -- Goff

15 June 2001; Rules may prevent Christiansen working as a lawyer

Judiciary appointment rules will probably prevent Tony Christiansen working as a lawyer. A spokesman for Chief District Court Judge David Carruthers said District Court judges signed an undertaking when applying for the bench that they relinquish their certificate for practising law in New Zealand.

The strict rule was important to guard against perceptions that former judges who practised again would be treated differently from rival lawyers during cases

2008-0615 - The Dominion - Departing judge unlikely to work as lawyer again

13 June 2001; Christiansen resigns as judge

Judge Tony Christiansen

A high profile Hawkes Bay judge, Tony Christiansen has quit his job. He left the Napier District Court suddenly on May 16 and did not return. The judge has been 5˝ years on the bench. He has a reputation for a fair, calm approach to the job

The head of Hawke’s Bay’s Criminal Bar Association, Tony Snell, said Judge Christiansen would be sorely missed by the legal fraternity in Hawke’s Bay. “He brought high quality, humour, openness and personality back to the courtroom. He was always fair to both sides of a case who always felt they had had a fair hearing.”

The head of police prosecutions for the Eastern region, Senior Sergeant Carey Griffiths, said the police team was sad to see Judge Christiansen go. "We have admired him for his fairness to both sides of a case," Mr Griffiths said.

Judge Christiansen said his decision was prompted by “personal reasons and the strains of a tough job”  He had no long-term plans but would consider his options after a break of at least three months. "I'm 53, in good health and there are other things to do in life,"

2008-0613 - Hawkes Bay Today - Napier judge quits saying he's had enough

2008-0614 - The Dominion - Strain of tough job prompts judge to quit

2008-0614 - Otago Daily Times - Judge quits 'tough job' after five years

2008-0614 - The Press - I've had enough, says Hawkes Bay judge