Justice Wilson resigns

Acting Attorney-General Judith Collins announced:

Acting Attorney-General Judith Collins announced that Justice Wilson today resigned as a judge of the Supreme Court.

This is a good outcome. Personally I’m slightly disappointed that I won’t get to observe and report on a judicial conduct panel, as what is effectively an impeachment trial of a supreme court justice would be a once in a lifetime event.

But the judiciary is spared the spectacle of what would have been a very messy public (effectively) trial, and a very costly one.

The terms on which the Judge has resigned are:

  • His existing entitlements, which include untaken sabbatical leave and retiring leave. The exact amount has not yet been calculated.
  • One year’s salary, of $410,000, which will be taxable.
  • The Crown will pay Justice Wilson’s solicitor-client costs which to date have been calculated at $475,000.

The costs of Justice Wilson must be paid by the Government, by statute – s27(1) of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner and Judicial Conduct Panel Act 2004 states:

The Judge’s reasonable costs of representation in respect of the inquiry must be met by the office of the Commissioner.

So that is the law as passed by the last Labour Government.

The one year’s salary will grate with a few people, but the reality is that it saves the taxpayer a lot of money. You see if Justice Wilson did not resign, he would remain getting his salary on full pay – plus all his further legal expenses would also be a debt to the taxpayer. The real loser in this deal is probably QC, who has ably represented Justice Wilson!

The High Court said that the JCC had to reconsider whether to recommend a JCP for Justice Wilson. Then after that the would have to appoint one all over again. Then there would be scheduling of it, and preliminary arguments, and then effectively the trial itself. Plus the possibility Justice Wilson may seek more judicial reviews.

And finally the JCP would have to come to a decision make a recommendation to Parliament, and Parliament decide whether to remove him.

I think it is impossible that this could occur within six months. It could indeed stretch out to a year.

So during those 6 – 12 months Justice Wilson would be receiving his full salary anyway.

On top of that we would be paying for his legal costs. If he has spent $475,000 so far – before it even gets to trial, I would be surprised if his costs would not come to at least that much again.

Also add on that the JCC was assisted by a former Australian Chief Justice – his costs would be considerable.

The Counsel assisting the JCP was to be a former Australian state solicitor-general – his costs would be in the hundreds of thousands.

And then add on the costs of Crown Law and the Ministry of Justice.

This is a ballpark guestimate, but I would say that if no deal was done to have Justice Wilson resign, then he would have still ended up with close to a year’s salary and the legal costs to the taxpayer would be quite easily a further million dollars or more on top of that.

So I have no problems at all with the agreement negotiated.

And while my sympathy for Justice Wilson is limited as he largely has his own intransigence to blame, it is worth noting he is barred for life from ever appearing in court again as a lawyer. He was formerly a top civil litigator, so his ability to earn money in future is seriously diminished.

It is a sad end to what was a highly regarded career as a lawyer and potentially as a Judge. His lack of full disclosure as a Court of Appeal Judge was IMO not a hanging offence. But his grudging co-operation with his own colleagues on the Supreme Court was what did him in. He embarrassed them, and he he substituted his own opinion as to what he thinks they need to know, for letting them decide that for themselves.

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