Last year, Justice Bill Wilson sat on a Court of Appeal case in which wool growers tried to get levies they claimed they were owed by the Wool Board. The judges found in favour of the Wool Board. The problem was, Justice Wilson is a business partner of the lawyer for the Wool Board, Alan Galbraith, and owed him nearly quarter of a million dollars.
It’s a clear conflict of interest. Justice Wilson should have recused himself from the case. Instead he repeatedly failed to declare his conflict of interest, and has since turned down private suggestions that he resign. The matter is currently being reviewed by the Judicial Conduct Commissioner.
The next stage is for the Commissioner to appoint a Judicial Conduct Panel. This panel can recommend to the Attorney-General that the judge be sacked. It’s then completely up to the Attorney-General to decide the judge’s fate.
But Attorney-General Chris Finlayson has trampled all over that process by saying that he will not act against Justice Wilson, who is a mate of his from their days at Bell Gully.
According to a sworn affidavit by Richard Bell, a wool grower who is not involved in the case, his local National MP, Colin King told him that Finlayson had said “Justice Wilson is a mate of mine and there’s no way I am pursuing this any further”.
Of course, Finlayson is denying all but I don’t buy it. What’s in it for Bell to lie? He’s actually in competition with some of the wool growers who stand to gain if the Court of Appeal’s decision is overturned because of Justice Wilson’s conflict of interest.
This all smacks of the dirty little old boys’ club that typifies National Government. Just as Bill English, Phil Heatley, and other ministers seem to think it’s OK to help themselves to taxpayer money, ministers like Finlayson seem to think it’s completely natural to use their power to do personal favours for their mates.