Some of the goings-on in the Bill Wilson affair are fortifying Alf’s view that we should have stuck with the Privy Council as our top appeal court. It is British, among its great attributes.
Setting up our own Supreme Court bothered him (and still does) because Alf was not confident we had enough judges supreme enough to sit on it.
His jaundiced view is further jaundiced by a Stuff report today on the Crown’s two top lawyers and their failure to correct a submission to the Supreme Court.
Oops. Probably Alf should refer to their alleged failure to correct the submission (bearing in mind this is legal stuff and lawyers are apt to become uppity about the absence of the word “alleged”).
The submission related to a case involving Supreme Court judge Bill Wilson, a bloke now embroiled in a ruckus about some judicial howz-your-father. It was later found to be bollocks (correction – to be safe, let’s make that alleged bollocks).
The Crown’s top lawyers are sticking to a strategy of silence.
This – of course – is the judicial way of doing things.
Solicitor-General David Collins, QC, said he would not comment on any issues involving a complaint to the judicial conduct commissioner about Justice Bill Wilson.
Dr Collins said that, because Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, the Crown’s senior lawyer, might have to make a decision on the complaint, it would be inappropriate for either to comment.
Trouble is, a bloke called Peter Radford, a wool grower at the centre of the controversy, is pissed off with the strategy of silence. He’s pissed off with a great deal, come to think of it.
“It is too late now for the attorney-general to take off his boots, clean his fingernails and pretend he is an independent referee,” Mr Radford said.
“His elbows are still muddy from intervening in the Supreme Court, where he encouraged the court to adopt the statement of his friend Justice Wilson.”
Let’s go back a bit.
This Bill Wilson feller, doing his thing as a judge in the Court of Appeal, was sitting on a case in which Alan Galbraith, Queen’s Counsel, represented the former Wool Board.
He did not disclose the small matter of $242,000 that he owed Galbraith.
Hmm. Bloody near a quarter of a million.
That’s a fair whack of indebtedness, in Alf’s book, although fair to say he has a very Calvinist approach to these matters and regards $10 as too much debt.
But back to the court case – the Wool Board was appealing against a High Court decision in favour of a group of wool growers who were seeking millions of dollars from the board.
The Wool Board won the appeal.
Justice Wilson and two other Court of Appeal judges found in favour of the board.
But then Mr Radford – one of the growers – discovered deeper business links between Justice Wilson and Mr Galbraith than the judge disclosed.
The Supreme Court then heard Mr Radford’s claim of apparent bias by Justice Wilson, and at that hearing the solicitor-general intervened on behalf of the attorney-general because the case involved the administration of justice.
The attorney-general’s submission said Justice Wilson’s disclosure of his financial ties to Mr Galbraith should be accepted and there was no reason for the judge to have stepped aside.
The court agreed…
But Radford is a dogged sort of a bugger who subsequently dug up some more stuff on the business links.
Alarm bells began clanging.
Retired judge Sir Edmund Thomas alerted Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, Finlayson and Collins to allegations that Justice Wilson owed Galbraith a big pile of dosh and was being pressed to pay it.
Sir Edmund alleged Justice Wilson had not made full disclosure to the Supreme Court “when under an obligation to do so”.
“The integrity of the court must be the primary concern,” he said.
Justice Wilson was asked to provide more information and finally disclosed that he owed Mr Galbraith hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Supreme Court then held a second hearing and ruled that its earlier decision was unsustainable and Justice Wilson should not have sat on the case.
Well, bugger me, Alf muttered at the time.
A judge sitting on a case when he should not have done so. And he finished up with a seat on the Supreme Court.
The attorney-general – it should be noted – made no submissions to the second hearing.
Judicial Conduct Commissioner Sir David Gascoigne is now investigating complaints against the judge.
A further development is reported on the Stuff site today.
The Dominion Post asked Mr Finlayson and Dr Collins if they had felt an obligation as officers of the court to correct their earlier submission immediately on knowing the facts had changed.
Mr Finlayson referred the question to Dr Collins, who would not comment, but said more details “may be” provided when Sir David completed his investigation.
Mr Radford said that, considering Mr Finlayson’s “actions to date and his friendship with Justice Wilson”, the attorney-general should not be making decisions when the judicial conduct commissioner’s investigation was concluded.
He should explain why his submission was not corrected when he became aware that Justice Wilson’s statement was not full and frank, Mr Radford said.
This sounds eminently reasonable to Alf.
But hey, things judicious don’t have to smack of eminent reason.
That’s precisely why Alf reckons he would have made a bloody good Attorney-General, if only he had a law degree and a sufficient smattering of Latin for such an august post.
He certainly would not now be grappling with prickly decisions involving his mates, because none of his mates happens to be a judge, nor are they likely to become one.