Briefcase Column, by John Bowie – National Business Review – I have a face-saving solution for Justice Wilson or, more importantly, the New Zealand judiciary. He needs to be sent up here to the Cook Islands, where I’m presently spending some ill-deserved R&R, as Chief Justice. No matter that there’s already been a changing of the legal guard here with David Williams QC relinquishing his role as Chief Justice in favour of Tom Weston QC. Tom would move aside, say for “family reasons”, if he’s asked to. Furthermore, he’ll do so toute suite if the person doing the asking is Judith Collins. You don’t say ‘No’ to Crusher. This elegant solution will satisfy various parties in a number of ways.
First, although the position is not one that will greatly tax Justice Wilson’s legal intellect, it’s not for legal slugs either. Take David Williams, who not only possesses a fine legal brain but also tossed in the local bench right back in 1994. He relished the role, from all accounts. Precedent set.
Second, it avoids the developing debacle with this weeping sore that threatens to entangle just about anyone who’s anyone in New Zealand judicial circles. Acting Attorney General Collins has been scraping around to find people without a Wilson connection to staff her Judicial Conduct Panel. People are recusing themselves and begging off in all directions. While the JCP will be constitutionally and legally fascinating, it’s what the new Supreme Court needs like a further monkey-puzzle abstraction about its perimeter. But wait, there’s more. The proposed action Justice Wilson is evidently proposing, challenging the instigation of the JCP, will further embarrass and challenge the prestige of the judiciary and its new court. The whole affair is becoming the sort of thing we might expect from a place like, er, the Cook Islands. Actually that’s unfair. The Cook’s wouldn’t permit it to happen.
Third, it gives Justice Bill a title that, from all accounts, he was in the running for at home when Dame Sian took the top job. That, according to some legal insiders, is what accounted for Justice Wilson’s rapid rise through the judicial ranks in the first place. Okay, being Chief Justice in the Cook Islands may have a certain folksy, Somerset Maugham quality, but it also holds a certain cache. Furthermore, nothing can remove Justice Wilson’s stellar reputation as a top commercial litigator so it’s not as if he’s going to be regarded as a washed-up legal has-been.
Four, it removes Justice Wilson as a keeper of secrets whose simply too connected to leave aggrieved and sore. After all, this drama has more than Bill Wilson as its centrepiece. Dame Sian hardly moved adequately to deal with the mounting conflict drama and little has been said about Alan Galbraith QC and his intimate knowledge of business affairs that did not appear to have been raised with opposing counsel during the Saxmere or other cases in which both Wilson and Galbraith appeared.
Five, Justice Wilson in the Cook Islands could ensure that his “good friend”, Sir Edmund Thomas was detained in uncomfortable circumstances should he ever set foot in the territory while escaping his homeland’s coolness.
There are some intangibles also available to Justice Wilson with ‘the Cooks option’. I met the renowned restauranteur Bob Sell up here at Muri. I thought he was dead, and told him so. He was gratified to learn he was still alive and told me he had just celebrated his 92nd birthday. He looks in his mid-70s, and looking 20 years younger than your years would appeal to anyone looking to work up here. Sir Ian Barker is still going strong, now appointed as President of the Court of Appeal and loving every minute of it. Certainly David Williams QC enjoyed his work here, which he continues as a Court of Appeal judge and, as Tom Weston said, enjoyed a glamorous career as an arbitrator “in exotic locations such as London or Paris or even further afield. Generally they involve colossal sums of money and high powered international lawyers.” Just the sort of stuff Bill Wilson would love. Bill, go do it.