July 2009: The National Business Review reveals a court challenge to Justice Bill Wilson’s role in a long-running legal battle between superfine wool producer Saxmere Company and the Wool Board Disestablishment Company (Disco).
The challenge was sparked by the discovery of a little-known legal provision in the Judicature Act, which required judges to seek permission to hold office outside of the judiciary.
Before that, the Supreme Court had effectively sanctioned a business relationship and friendship between Justice Wilson and Queen’s counsel Alan Galbraith who argued a case before him.
Bill Wilson QC was plucked from his Wellington chambers and given a role on the Court of Appeal bench at the beginning of 2007.
Within two months he was scheduled as one of the three judges to hear a case between superfine wool producer Saxmere Company and the Wool Board Disestablishment Company (Disco).
Two years earlier, Saxmere had won a case at the High Court against Disco. Justice Forrest Miller found unlawful conduct by the Wool Board, negligence and a breach of statutory duty.
Disco went to the Court of Appeal, which overturned the High Court decision.
Disco lawyer Mr Galbraith and Justice Wilson jointly owned and were directors of a company called Rich Hill.
While Justice Wilson declared his friendship with Mr Galbraith, he did not explain the full extent of the financial relationship prior, or during, the Court of Appeal hearing.
Following the Court of Appeal defeat, Saxmere appealed to the Supreme Court alleging potential bias, which was not accepted.
By this stage, Justice Wilson had been rapidly elevated to the Supreme Court bench.
Just days after the Supreme Court decision in 2009, Saxmere applied to have it recalled, citing section 4(2a) of the Judicature Act, which stipulated a judge must have permission from the Chief High Court judge to hold office.
Legal opinion sought by NBR determined the term “office” was widely accepted to include company directorship.
It was also determined that no judge, including Justice Wilson, had sought this permission since the statute was made into law in 2004.
When the Supreme Court heard the application last year, more information about the details of Justice Wilson’s financial dealings with Mr Galbraith were made clear. Some of the details were uncovered by the Saxmere camp while others were provided by Justice Wilson himself in increasingly damning statements to the Supreme Court.
At one point the Supreme Court felt compelled to request specific financial details from Justice Wilson because they had not been provided earlier.
Those details revealed a level of indebtedness to Mr Galbraith approaching $250,000.
However, since then NBR has revealed that Mr Galbraith, as the other shareholder of the company, guaranteed a loan to fund Justice Wilson’s share of a land purchase. This deal was completed during the period of the Court of Appeal’s deliberation in the case.
Throughout this scandal, NBR has consistently sought answers to what is a unique judicial and constitutional crisis.
Questions remain over judicial selection and appointment and who is responsible to ensure judges are squeaky clean.
NBR will continue to push for answers to these and other questions surrounding judicial and legal cosiness created by the abandonment of the Privy Council in favour of a home -grown Supreme Court.
Fri, 07 May 2010