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NBR Takes Legal Action Over Holmes Show

National Business Review Takes Legal Action Over Holmes Show Disclosure

The National Business Review is taking legal advice over a claim by suspended Act MP Donna Awatere Huata¹s that judges told Wellington lawyer and judge's wife Donna Hall her unsuccessful defamation case against the newspaper was "open and shut."

The claim was made last Friday on the Holmes show by suspended Mrs Awatere-Huata, who also breached a confidentiality agreement by disclosing the action against NBR cost Donna Hall an alleged $260,000.

NBR editor in chief Nevil Gibson said the newspaper was pursuing its legal rights and ascertaining the truth of Mrs Awatere-Huata¹s assertion that two judges had given Ms Hall legal advice. A lawyer¹s letter had been sent to Ms Hall.

"If Donna Awatere-Huata accurately repeated what Donna Hall told her - and there's been no denials - there are serious questions involving judicial propriety and breach of confidence to be answered," Mr Gibson said.

"Why on earth were two judges giving Ms Hall advice and why did she, as an officer of the court, disclose confidential financial details?

"I have no doubt that if NBR had disclosed figures Ms Hall would have been rushing into court screaming foul play.

"As it turned out the advice that she had a so-called open and shut case against NBR was dud. Presumably it was advice given on a no-win, no-fee basis," he said.

Mr Gibson's concerns were echoed by National's Clevedon MP Judith Collins, a former lawyer and vice president of the New Zealand Law Society.

Ms Collins said if judges gave such advice it raised again the issue of what "a small, closed and somewhat incestuous legal profession and judiciary we have."

"What sort of completely undisciplined environment is this where a couple of judges feel they have free licence to go around giving legal advice to applicants before the court? It's appalling and stupid."

Ms Collins said Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias was responsible for the administration of judges and she would need to ask "some very serious questions about this."

Ms Hall, the lawyer wife of High Court judge and former Waitangi Tribunal chairman Justice Eddie Durie, sued NBR unsuccessfully in August last year in a one-week trial.

Having failed in her action Ms Hall was liable to pay not only her own legal costs but also NBR's. By written agreement between the parties NBR's costs may not be disclosed. NBR's costs - which may be described only as substantial - were less than $260,000.

Mrs Awatere-Huata gave Ms Hall's legal costs bill against the NBR as a reason she had not taken defamation action against The Dominion Post over its Pipi Foundation allegations.

"I'm not a wealthy woman and $260,000 is what it cost Donna Hall," Mrs Awatere-Huata said.

NBR referred the relevant part of the Holmes interview to Chief Justice Elias and asked under what circumstances a judge may give legal advice. She replied that she had no knowledge of the matter.

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