2 mins to read

High Court bars Buddle Findlay from acting against former client George Kerr

The court ruled that George Kerr's concerns about Buddle Findlay were justified.

Jonathan Underhill
Thu, 30 Oct 2014

Buddle Findlay, one of New Zealand's leading commercial and public law firms, has been barred from acting against interests associated with George Kerr, a high profile client of 14 years who generated some $10 million in fees for the firm.

In a High Court decision this week, Justice Murray Gilbert ruled that Buddle Findlay held confidential information about Kerr, a client up until 2012, and his business affairs.

The firm had been hired by Wilaci, a trust company owned by John Grill, a former WorleyParsons chief executive who was on the Forbes list of Australia's 50 richest people. In August 2012, Wilaci made a 60-day loan of A$37 million to Torchlight Fund, part of a group established by Kerr and managed through Pyne Gould.

The High Court judgment says Torchlight was late in repaying the loan, accruing interest and penalties that Wilaci claimed had mounted up to A$33.6 million and which drove it to call in receivers for the fund. In August this year, Kerr began proceedings against the receivers and Wilaci claiming the money sought was an unenforceable penalty. The receivers in turn sought declarations from the court that assets of Torchlight Fund, now domiciled in the Cayman Islands, were subject to Wilaci's security, the judgment says.

Kerr was concerned that he may be found personally liable for the late payment fees because of his involvement as a director of various Torchlight entities.

The judgment cited Kerr saying he was "upset and distressed that Buddle Findlay has chosen to accept instructions from Wilaci against him and his interests." The law firm argued that Kerr's move to have it disqualified was "extraordinary" and "drastic."

Buddle Findlay helped Kerr establish the Torchlight group in 2009, carrying out "significant work" including for the Torchlight Fund and its acquisitions of distressed assets.

Justice Gilbert said Kerr's concerns about Buddle Findlay were justified because some of the information it held on Kerr "is plainly of potential relevance to the dispute."

"It is unacceptable that Mr Kerr should now be exposed to the risk that this information could be misused to his detriment," Justice Gilbert said. He turned down an offer from the law firm to establish an "information barrier" to fence off what it held from the current case.

The law firm declined to comment, saying there were still matters before the court.


Jonathan Underhill
Thu, 30 Oct 2014
© All content copyright NBR. Do not reproduce in any form without permission, even if you have a paid subscription.
High Court bars Buddle Findlay from acting against former client George Kerr