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Hearing to Focus on Judge's 'Conflict of Interst'

News Release - 14 November 2009

Landmark Hearing to Focus on Judge's 'Conflict of Interest'

A landmark hearing in the Supreme Court in Wellington on 24 November will consider whether it should review a decision it made in July this year regarding an alleged conflict of interest by one of its own judges.

The case relates to the alleged conflict of Justice Wilson in the Court of Appeal due to his under-disclosed business interests with the senior lawyer for the other party, Alan Galbraith QC.

At the time Justice Wilson and Mr Galbraith were co-directors and 50:50 shareholders in Rich Hill Stud, a multi-million dollar horse breeding venture in the Waikato. The court found there was no apparent bias because there was no evidence that the Judge was beholden or indebted to the lawyer, no evidence that there were any statutory limits on extra-judicial activities and no indication that their joint company (Rich Hill Ltd) was unable to meet its obligations.

The application for recall, by Saxmere Company, claims that the Supreme Court failed to consider a relevant law (section 4(2A) of the Judicature Act) which requires Judges to get approval of the Chief High Court Judge before having any other paid employment or holding any other office.

Since filing the application Justice Wilson has made two further statements to his Supreme Court colleagues. In the first he provided new information to correct assumptions by the Court and explained more about Rich Hill. Justice Wilson also advised that he was selling all his shareholding in Rich Hill Ltd, resigning as director and winding up his various horse breeding partnerships with Mr Galbraith and others. He provided further details last month after a request from the Court for details about the materiality of what appears to be an "indirect indebtedness" between the Judge and Mr Galbraith.

Saxmere spokesperson Ian Ewen-Street said the failure to apply the correct law and the judge's lack of disclosure both before the Court of Appeal hearing and in his first statement to the Supreme Court raised grave concerns that a miscarriage of justice had occurred and that the case should be recalled. He said the case "raises an important question about how the Court should respond where a Judge's disclosure to his own colleagues is not full and frank.

"Our first argument is that the failure to consider s4(2A) means the Supreme Court had "drawn its line" in the wrong place. The clear intent of Parliament was that judicial responsibilities must come first, and judges need approval before they can hold other positions that may conflict with their judicial responsibilities.

"The second ground is that Justice Wilson's recent statements to the Supreme Court mean that many of the Supreme Court's assumptions in its July 2009 decision were wrong. It now appears that Justice Wilson was beholden to Mr Galbraith," he said.

"It is essential the public have confidence in the independence and integrity of the judicial system, principles we believe have been undermined in this case."


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