A simple message to the Herald on Sunday - there is nothing wrong with being naked. Even if you are a Judge.

The Herald on Sunday is running a "shock! horror!" series of stories about a District Court Judge who happens to be a member of a naturist ("nudist") club in Canterbury and had some naked photos of himself posted on the club website.

A few things to note about this "story" before we go on. First, the photos were used by the club without the judge's express permission (although apparently the club's membership form includes a generic permission to use photos of members for its purposes). So it's not as if the judge in question sought to somehow set out to exhibit himself to the entire world.

Second, the photos were on the club's "photo gallery" page, which requires a viewer to click-through from its home page to view. Claims that they were somehow used to "publicise" the club are thus a bit of an exaggeration.

And finally, the HoS tells us that they showed the judge "posing on a grass lawn" and "playing petanque". When you realise that "posing" means "standing with some others", there is no suggestion that they depict disreputable or questionable behaviour. Indeed, they show what late-middle aged people do with their friends all over the country ... just that this individual prefers to do it without clothes on.

Nevertheless, the HoS "broke" this story in last week's edition, then this week had a follow-up article reporting that "a judicial watchdog is investigating a complaint about the conduct of a judge whose naked photographs were used online to promote a nudist camp." Which means, I think, that it's time to put a stake through this particular "story's" heart.

(I'm not linking to the HoS articles because giving the website clicks would be positively reward some pretty average journalism, imnsho. If you really want to view the source material, you'll have to dig it out for yourself.)

Because there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a naturist, or a member of a club of naturists. Nothing. At. All. Even if you are a judge.

Simply being naked around other people (including children) in a non-public place (like the Pineglades Naturist Club) is not against the law. Indeed, being naked around other people in a public place is not necessarily illegal, but is a more complex question (particularly when children are involved).

Nor is there anything immoral or disreputable about naturism as a lifestyle choice. Here's how the club in question describes it. And as Helen Mirren puts it:

“I’m a naturist at heart. I love being on beaches where everyone is naked. Ugly people, beautiful people, old people, whatever. It’s so unisexual and so liberating.”

Is anyone going to seriously argue that Helen Mirren is wrong or morally dubious in her views? Helen Mirren? I didn't think so!

Indeed, we positively celebrate forms of naturism in our general culture. The "nude blacks" regularly play "tests" against visiting teams before the real thing kicks off at Dunedin's moneysink. Thousands of people watch them do so. And we all think it is a fine old jape.

So who on earth could have a problem with a judge wanting to join with others who prefer not to wear clothes, even if the club then chooses (without his express knowledge or agreement) to put up photos of him doing so in a section of its website where the public might (if they really go digging) see them? Who would, according to the HoS, think this behaviour so terrible that she or he complains to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner about the judge "adversely affecting the standing of the judiciary and undermining public confidence 'especially in the hearing of sex crimes, public indecency cases and the exposure of minors to pornography'."?

Well, I think this week's edition of the HoS answers that question. Because Rodney Hide, in his regular column, makes a whole lot of claims about why there's something terribly wrong with the judge's actions in terms that sound remarkably like the complaint that the HoS says it has seen. I won't go through Hide's column in detail because, you know, nonsense ... but there's a couple of fish in the barrel that demand shooting.

First up, Hide sanctimoniously asks:

How then does he sit in judgment on sex cases, public indecency charges, or rule on the acceptability of pornography to minors?

To make a concrete example: how can he preside in judgment over a man accused of exposing himself to children?

Isn't that exactly what he has done?

The answer to the general question is simple. Being pictured naked is not the same as acting in an indecent or offensive manner. To get all logical, the fact that (some) sexual offences involve nudity does not mean that all forms of nudity involve a sexual offence.

You may as well say that a judge's membership of a boxing club (along with public photos of a judge sparring in the ring) means that the judge cannot sit in judgment on cases involving assault, fighting in public or intentional injury. Or a judge who drives rally cars in her spare time (and has appeared in the paper behind the wheel of her powerful race car) is unable to judge in cases of dangerous driving, street racing or sustained loss of traction.

And to answer Hide's concrete example, no. No, he hasn't. Anyone before the judge "accused of exposing himself to children" will either be there on charges of "offensive behaviour" or committing an " indecent act", either in a "public place" or any place "with the intention to insult or offend".

The former "offensive behaviour" charge requires nudity in a public place where unsuspecting/unconsenting children may be present. The judge was at a private club, with any children present brought there by their parents in full knowledge of what naturism involves. The latter charges require an indecent act. And simply being naked is not "indecent".

Once again, it would be like someone who has smashed a stranger in the face outside a bar at 3 am complaining that the judge on the case can't decide it because he boxes against others with gloves and headgear, in a ring with a referee overseeing proceedings. Because really it's just the same thing, isn't it!

So ... nonsense. Clearly. And note that, despite the HoS's claim that the judge is now being "investigated" based on claims like those Hide makes, it means very little in practice. Yes, a complaint has been laid - but anyone can make such a complaint. And, yes, the Judicial Conduct Commissioner then has to take a look at the complaint ("investigate" it) - before potentially dismissing it or taking no further action in respect of it.

Meaning that this "investigation" means about as much as if I were to lodge a complaint with the Press Council, claiming that Hide's article is a lot of nonsense that calls the very purpose of the media into disrepute. The fact that the Press Council then "will at its next meeting consider and usually determine the complaint" doesn't mean that my complaint has any merit or any chance of being upheld ... it just means that it has to look at what I'm saying before throwing it out.

Which is what I fully expect to happen in relation to the complaint about the "nude judge".

But before I leave this matter, there's one huge, jaw-droppingly brazen bit of rank hypocrisy in Hide's column that I really cannot allow to pass by without comment. Hide opens his case against the judge in question with this claim:

[T]he fiction is judges are beyond reproach. They preside with great solemnity and dignity and make a great play of the pomp and circumstance - all of which evaporates once you have seen this unfortunate fellow in his birthday suit, block and tackle on display.

For me, that is impossible to respect and his dignity is gone.

Just remember that the person writing these words, whilst he was an elected member of the House of Representatives and so part of the supreme lawmaking body of the country, positively chose to allow the public to see him like this. Or this. And then he expected me to respect the laws that he voted into existence, after seeing him dressed like that?

So why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Comments (10)

by Chuck Bird on February 21, 2016
Chuck Bird

Andrew, are you suggesting that Rodney is a hypocrite? 

by Lee Churchman on February 21, 2016
Lee Churchman

When he's leader of the free world President Trump will put an end to these deviants!

by Lee Churchman on February 21, 2016
Lee Churchman

On a more serious note: it's not illegal for school teachers to post naked pictures of themselves on the internet, but they might find themselves in trouble with their employer if they did so. Similarly, I don't think it would be illegal for an ethics lecturer to publicise their attendance at a cross burning, but the uni management might have problems with that.

by Andrew Geddis on February 21, 2016
Andrew Geddis

@Lee,

First, the judge didn't "post naked pictures of [himself] on the internet." Naked photos of him were posted on the internet by someone else (in a place the public would really, really have to go looking to find them).

Second,a teacher's is not the same as a judge's. There may be reasons why we are hyper-cautious about naked images of those working with children being spread in places where those children may access them. Judges, not so much.

Third, even given the second point, I'm willing to bet a fair bit of money that any attempt to discipline a teacher based on nothing more than the fact a picture of them engaged in naturist activities has become widely seen would fail. For example, the Teachers' Council has divided sharply on whether a teacher's involvement in explicitly pornographic photos (where she expressly was identified as being a teacher) meant she ought to be disciplined. An unlabelled photo of a teacher standing naked on a lawn/playing petanque without clothes on falls well short of this sort of behaviour.

Finally, as I made clear in my post, being a member of a naturist club is neither illegal nor immoral or disreputable. Even if attending a cross-burning is not the former, it most certainly is the latter.

So of course certain professions/roles may require certain standards of behaviour in the private lives of those who fill them (see the Guidelines for Judicial Conduct). But how has what the judge has done fallen short of the standards we expect of judges once their robes come off (so to speak)?

by Ian MacKay on February 21, 2016
Ian MacKay

I know a senior judge who has a place next door to ours. I have seen this judge drinking a glass of wine on his deck! For heavens sake! In public! Where a passing child or a priest could see him! A disgrace he is as a man or as a judge. Off with his head!

by Andrew Geddis on February 21, 2016
Andrew Geddis

@Ian,

Take a photo of him, put it up on the internet and thereby ensure that said judge can never again sit on cases involving drink driving, breach of liquor bans or supply of alcohol to a minor.

by Lee Churchman on February 21, 2016
Lee Churchman

 For example, the Teachers' Council has divided sharply on whether a teacher's involvement in explicitly pornographic photos (where she expressly was identified as being a teacher) meant she ought to be disciplined.

That's kind of the point. You say:

Being a member of a naturist club is neither illegal nor immoral or disreputable.

It's certainly not the first, probably not the latter, but whether or not it is disreputable in a practical sense depends on the social context. In the New Zealand of the past or many other countries today, it would be and this would lose him the respect of the public and make his position as a judge untenable whether or not this is fair in some more morally rarefied sense of the term.

Would you have the same opinion if this were 40 years ago, or in a country where nudity is culturally more problematic than in NZ?

by Andrew Geddis on February 21, 2016
Andrew Geddis

@Lee,

We're not living 40 years ago, nor in a country where nudity is culturally more problematic than NZ. My post was in response to a contemporary commentator claiming that merely been seen nude in today's New Zealand disqualifies a judge from office. A claim that I take it you agree is very silly (social context being as it is)?

More generally, but ... of course what is considered to be socially acceptable behaviour in a judge's/teacher's/academic's private lives depends upon social context. I'm not sure anyone could seriously dispute that?

by donna on February 22, 2016
donna

Uh, just for your info: logic has never been Rodney Hide's strong suit. It is also a mystery to me how this champion of libertarianism has managed to get into such a lather over, well, nothing more than a citizen exercising their right to not wear clothes in the company of like-minded adults.

It's enough to make a girl want to go and have a glass of wine on the deck.

by Lee Churchman on February 22, 2016
Lee Churchman

More generally, but ... of course what is considered to be socially acceptable behaviour in a judge's/teacher's/academic's private lives depends upon social context. I'm not sure anyone could seriously dispute that?

No, but our society isn't particularly consistent about this. Sometimes we stick up for people's right to unpopular lifestyles, and other times the opposite. I find that somewhat problematic, although I can't make up my mind how to consistently resolve the problem.

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