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What the courts have been thinking about

Friday 15th December 2000

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The year in law by JOCK ANDERSON

  • Maturing rocker Ray Columbus took INL's limp Truth to the defamation cleaners in a victory that cost the little sleaze sheet the sharp end of $1 million in damages and costs.
  • In a story it preferred not to share with its members, the Auckland District Law Society was thrashed by Justice Colin Nicholson over its bungled handling of a client's complaint against an evasive female barrister's fees. Justice Nicholson described the ADLS's handling of the complaint as "a sorry saga of mistakes, big and small."
  • Public funded legal aid came in under budget for the first time in three years, with costs being cut from $97 million to $88 million.
  • This didn't stop Treaty of Waitangi claim specialist, Auckland law firm Walters Williams, becoming first to top $1 million in legal aid receipts.
  • The Serious Fraud Office decided against prosecuting any party associated with the 12-year-old Magnum tax transaction, much to the outrage of You-know-who and others.
  • This followed a High Court ruling in favour of the Bank of New Zealand which successfully fought an Inland Revenue claim that it owed a total of $180 million. The IRD was to appeal the case, which ran alongside but was not directly related to the wine-box affair.
  • The IRD rejected a $40 million out of court settlement from BNZ.
  • Former prime minister David Lange finally pulled the plug this week on his long running defamation claim against Australian Consolidated Press-owned North & South magazine and columnist Joe Atkinson over a story published in 1995.
  • Mr Lange's discontinuance - brought about largely by mounting costs - adds weight to a freedom of speech argument that a defence of qualified privilege is available in defamation cases for political expression.
  • Challenging the view of now Chief Justice Sian Elias that a new defence of political discussion could be used by North & South, Mr Lange took his case to the Privy Council in 1999, only to be told the New Zealand Court of Appeal should sort it out.
  • Of slavering interest to the talkback classes is whether the New Year will bring Sir Tipene O'Regan's defamation action against Paul Holmes and 1ZB closer to the ratings court.
  • The New Zealand Herald awaits a date in its bid to have the Court of Appeal overturn the sacking of veteran reporter Ric Oram's reinstatement by the Employment Court. Mr Oram returned to work in July following a successful personal grievance against the Herald which blamed him totally for the July 1999 publication of a picture of an innocent man wrongly described as a notorious gang boss linked to murder, drug dealing, extortion and other crime.

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