Briefcase Blog – John Bowie – Justice Wilson continues to set more precedents, this time ‘heralded’, if I may put it that way, by the extensive NZ Herald reports in the weekend, followed by the capital’s Dominion Post editorialising that he should have stood aside when the matter went to the investigative stage. The slow train wreck that is evolving though has now extended beyond Justice Bill Wilson and embraced with fervour two of our more recent legal institutions, the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner and of course the Supreme Court itself. The Ted Thomas judgment, for surely that is what it effectively amounts to, is a meticulously recounted report – and request for action. But implicit in the complaint may be a criticism of the manner in which the Chief Justice has handled the matter.
Sir Edmund hardly pulled his punches in his December 09 letter to Sir David Gascoigne, writing with judicial clarity and near forensic dissection of the facts surrounding Justice Wilson’s indebtedness to Alan Galbraith and his various explanations concerning it. Referring to conduct that is “utterly unacceptable,” “a serious breach of judicial ethics,” “a signal lack of judgment” and a profession that had been “let down.” He noted upon his attendance at various legal functions when “Justice Wilson’s conduct was a frequent topic of conversation. All who spoke of it were dismayed or appalled. The phrase, “He has got to go,” was commonly employed.” If the allegations are proven, he said in the letter, then any one of the four specified instances were a “hanging offence.” His reference to what he says is a “fictitious” story from Justice Wilson regarding an alleged conversation with Justice Blanchard about his indebtedness, are unparalled in their seriousness and surely compromise the ability of the court to function as it should, or must.
“The Rule of Law Itself is Placed In Jeopardy”
Sir Edmund referred to the fact that an entire court and the rule of law was undermined by issues of breaches of judicial ethics. But it is the time line here that is now important. Put Justice Wilson to one side for the moment and consider the role of the Chief Justice, who received a letter from Sir Edmund in July 2009 when he outlined the source of his information in the gravest possible terms. The letter followed the “categorical assurance” received by the Chief Justice from Justice Wilson that the judge was not “beholden” to Galbraith. Justice Wilson may be quite correct and the barrister friends mistaken. However we do know that in July Alan Galbraith was to speak with the Chief Justice and provide her with details to show the indebtedness situation in respect of the Rich Hill stud and his deep concerns over the position. It is unclear f rom the Thomas complaint whether that meeting actually occurred, but a short time later, on 20 July, whilst away in Hong Kong, the Chief Justice rang Sir Edmund referring to Justice Wilson’s assurances and said, according to Sir Edmund, “she was not prepared to act or could not act, on the basis of rumour or an anonymous report.” One week later the Chief Justice received Sir Edmund’s letter detailing his sources – three of the country’s most eminent Queens’ Counsel, Jim Farmer, Colin Carruthers and of course Alan Galbraith. She did not act so as to cause Justice Wilson to either stand aside or to resign. Everyone who’s anyone in a senior legal role is a friend of Bill Wilson’s it seems. Apart from the trio of concerned barristers, particularly his confidante Colin Carruthers, the country’s most senior legal officers, the Attorney General, Solicitor General and Chief Justice, are compromised by his current position as a sitting judge. The Chief Justice could have remedied that situation. The Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner’s long-awaited report, whatever it may say, is now almost and already a footnote in this sorry saga, which has not only compromised our highest court but it has already demonstrated that the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, with over 500 complaints to have gone nowhere, is about as effective as Justice Wilson’s protestations of having been vindicated.