The Weekend Herald has two articles on the embattled Supreme Court Justice Bill Wilson.
Sir Edmund (Ted) Thomas, formerly of the Court of Appeal, wrote an 18-page complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, raising concerns that Justice Wilson had failed to fully disclose a debt he owed a senior lawyer at a time the lawyer argued a case before him.
This was to QC Alan Galbraith.
Sir Edmund’s complaint sets out respects in which he asserts Justice Wilson failed to meet required ethical standards of judicial conduct.
He added: “Based on my 43 years’ or so experience at the bar and on the bench, I believe that any other judge I have known would have stood down or made a complete disclosure.”
The bigger issue, in my opinion, is not the original decision to hear the case, but the failure to disclose the debt to fellow Supreme Court members.
According to a copy of his complaint obtained by the Weekend Herald, he considers the matter is too serious for the conduct commissioner to refer it to Chief Justice Sian Elias.
He wrote that this course of action should be ruled out because of the horse-racing interests Dame Sian, her husband, Hugh Fletcher, and Justice Wilson shared until recently.
If it is not referred to the Chief Justice, then that is effectively saying it is a potentially sackable offence, and it is hard to see how Justice Wilson would not resign, rather than undergo a judicial conduct panel.
The more serious revelation is in their second article:
In addition to the fact that Justice Wilson had not made full disclosure to the Court, Sir Edmund had understood that Galbraith had been pressing Justice Wilson for payment in 2007.
Which indicates it should be top of mind for disclosure.
“Mr Farmer was extremely critical of Justice Wilson’s failure to disclose the indebtedness and endorsed a comment made by Mr Carruthers [Colin Carruthers, QC] that ‘Bill [Justice Wilson] has feet of clay’.”
Sir Edmund states that he was told that Carruthers, a friend of Justice Wilson, “had tried and tried to persuade him to disclose the indebtedness but he had adamantly refused”.
This had become more distressing for those in the know after the Supreme Court ruled on July 3 last year that on the basis of information provided by Justice Wilson, there appeared to be no basis for a finding of apparent bias.
The part I have bolded appears to be a smoking gun.
It is one thing to have overlooked disclosing the debt to the Supreme Court as it was not top of mind, and you did not consider it potentially relevant.
But if a senior QC had been lobbying you to disclose the debt, and Justice Wilson refused to do so, then he was deliberately concealing the information from his fellow Judges, and not allowing them to decide for themselves if the debt was material.
The time-frame is not absolutely clear, but it looks like the entreaty from Mr Carruthers was made prior to the first Supreme Court hearing. If that was the case, then I’d say that has made the position of Justice Wilson untenable – a conclusion I have not been willing to make previously.
Sir Edmund records that he spoke to the Chief Justice by phone on July 20 and read her the notes he had made of his communications with Farmer but did not disclose Farmer’s identity.
Dame Sian had told him that she had received “a categorical assurance” from Justice Wilson that he was not “beholden” to Galbraith. She felt unable to act when the source was anonymous and in the absence of a formal complaint. The Chief Justice was “sickened” by what he told her, Sir Edmund wrote, and repeatedly asked him to persuade his source to come forward and make a formal complaint.
Which has effectively happened with Sir Ted revealing it was Jim Farmer. And if Justice Wilson did make a “categorical assurance” to the Chief Justice, it again makes things worse.