High Court Justice David Collins

Professional Data:

2014 Judge Survey Score (1-10): 7.6       Ranked (out of 63): 30thJustice David Collins

Postion & Titles:


Judge of:

Wellington High Court since 2012

Formerly Solicitor

Specializations and Professional Interests:

Medical and, to a lesser extent, criminal Law.  Has fostered strong political affiliations with leaders of both major political parties which have served him well in his career.

Professional Comments:

David Collins’ appointment to the bench raised consternation which is rare in New Zealand, with stories in the mainstream press questioning the process of judicial appointments.  Until Collins’ judicial appointment, the conventional wisdom was Collins would be the first Solicitor General not to be subsequently appointed to the NZ bench (In contrast, David Collins’ predecessors Terrence Arnold and John McGrath were each appointed directly to the Court of Appeal).
Collins’ legal talent is not the main concern, as he is widely regarded as a competent lawyer.  But questions of his judgment, honesty and personal adherence to the rule of law are widespread.

Under Collins’ leadership, Crown Law grew rapidly even as the number of criminal and civil cases fell.  The culture Collins promoted within Crown Law was one of retribution and punishment for perceived slights, fueled by the resources of the State.  One embarrassing example occurred on the day Collins’ judicial appointment was announced; his deputy Solicitor General Matthew Palmer was being sued in the Wellington High Court by former IRD solicitor Lysette DuClaire for alleged professional and personal attacks after she failed to carry out his instructions to conceal discovery in a fraud case.

David Collins took his Solicitor-General role personally, which resulted in him often taking a Machiavellian approach to his duties.  After a 2009 prosecution of George Gwaze for sexual violation and murder of his niece resulted in acquittal, Collins blamed the jury and applied to the Supreme Court to try Gwaze again.  Collins’ outburst prompted two jurors to step forward to say Collins’ office could not even establish the cause of death.

It was an open secret that Collins’ “win at all costs” approach saw him repeatedly perjure himself in proceedings over recent years.  Ex-pat Bernie Frost continues to be a thorn in Collins’ side for false evidence Collins gave as a witness in an ACC asbestos claim in Australia back in 2003.  Though he became effectively immune from prosecution because of his State position, multiple Law Society complaints against Dr Collins resulted in confidential settlements, including the 2006 case of M v M, where Collins avoided contempt of court by submitting a brief of evidence claiming he never vetting a manuscript – until the original surfaced with his handwriting all over it.  Author and Horowhenua councilwoman Anne Hunt received an undisclosed settlement from Collins after she was found in contempt of court for following Collins’ legal advice.  The Court sealed evidence of Collins’ criminal deceit on the grounds Ms Hunt never called him as a witness.

On 14 October 2007, in a private meeting with then-Prime Minister Helen Clark, Deputy PM Michael Cullen and Justice Minister Annette King, then-S-G Collins gave the approval for nationwide raids the next day under the Terrorist Suppression Act 2002.  Justice Collins was head of Crown Law at the time, and the only lawyer at this meeting.  When the raids subsequently prompted mass street protests, Collins refused to prosecute the 18 persons who had been arrested and held 30 days without bail under the TSA, claiming the legislation was legally untenable.  When disclosure revealed the ensuing prosecutions were the most expensive in New Zealand history, charges against all but 4 were eventually dropped, and the Crown privately conceded prison time for the remaining 4 was not given a high prospect for success, Collins publicly declared he had always been against the raids, prompting Annette King to diplomatically dispute Collins’ honesty.

Immediately prior to his appointment as Solicitor General, David Collins QC was one of the biggest exploiters of legal aid in New Zealand, claiming $400,000 in legal aid reimbursements in his last year in private practice (2006) – an amount which exceeded a High Court Judge’s annual compensation and which placed him 18th in aid compensation for the year despite taking fewer legal aid cases by comparison.  In 2010-2011, as head of Crown Law, Justice Collins worked to implement policy changes designed to target lawyers deemed to be abusing legal aid.

In 2008 then-High Court Justice Rhys Harrison sealed evidence that Collins filed a malicious prosecution against kiwisfirst publisher Vince Siemer for contempt, including a letter from Yahoo! spurning Collins’ demand that the legal blog be shut down as an unlawful request. A month later Collins’ gave an impassioned speech for stricter censorship laws to an internet forum in Wellington asserting New Zealand’s allies were not sensitive to New Zealand’s aims in this area.

In Siemer v Solicitor General CIV2008 404 6880 [2009], High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann struck out a claim challenging the legality of a 2008 police raid Collins ordered on Siemer’s home, as well as Collins’ earlier demands upon Yahoo!, on grounds his actions were unsupported by legal authority (i.e. signed warrant, court case or court judgment).  Despite no evidence or statement of defence being filed, the summary strike out judgment stated  “I accept (Collins’) submission that these allegations have no foundation”.  In the appeal (CA718/2009),  Collins’ S-G predecessor Terrence Arnold issued the Court of Appeal judgment upholding the strike out, saying Collins could not be sued but that the Police still could be.

While no official records are kept, an extraordinary number of formal complaints and court proceedings were filed in respect to Crown counsel perverting the course of justice during Collins’ Crown Law leadership.  In a 2010 private prosecution brought by Accountant John Slavich, Collins and two of his deputies each invoked discretionary powers under s159 of the Summary Proceedings Act to stay the prosecution against the other two.  When the power was determined not to extend beyond the S-G, Collins formally delegated the powers to the other two.

In early 2011 Collins again used s159 to stay prosecutions against two Crown prosecutors caught falsifying evidence in a burglary ring prosecution of Vincent Clayton which was publicly exposed as as a rort by Crown Law.

In the recall of Saxmere v Wool Board SC64/2007 – culminating from disgraced Supreme Court Justice Bill Wilson’s conflict with Wool Board’s counsel who was a business partner Wilson owed money to – Collins’ 33 page submission as “intervenor in the public interest” was so jaded in favour of Wilson that when Collins appeared to give oral arguments, the Supreme Court declined to hear from him. This was after Collins had Saxmere’s counsel Sue Grey fired from her Department of Conservation position for refusing to advise Saxmere to drop the allegations against Wilson.  Ms Grey later received a confidential settlement.

It is reflective of the nature of the man that David Collins to this day apparently believes the arguments he wished to raise with the Supreme Court in support of Wilson were proper or in the public interest.   He brokers no doubt of his decisions.  Collins is fundamentally a man of tremendous ambition and an overachiever who has successfully been “fighting above his weight” for most of his career.   In stature he is a small man who believes he has more to prove than most.  Accepting he made a mistake is not in his nature.

As vindictive as he can be with his critics, Collins is extraordinarily convivial with those who might help his career.  At political gatherings Collins would typically be the one telling the Chief Justice how beautiful she looked, the Prime Minister how much he loved his tie and the Attorney General how brilliant he thought he was.  This sycophantic tendency toward his superiors crosses the political spectrum, making him a favoured tramping companion of former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark and a confidante of National Attorney-General Chris Finlayson.

Justice David Collins’ many personal connections and obligations compel extreme secrecy to effectively protect his mates.  In one of His Honour’s first cases (Police v X), Collins’ ruled the Police informant was not in breach of a blanket court suppression order before ordering a suppression order of the same evidence and name of the defendant on his own initiative.  Ironically, Justice Collins’ suppression order came shortly after passage of the Criminal Procedures Act 2011 – legislation Collins had pushed for when S-G.  The Act carries harsher criminal penalties for breaches of suppression orders and was publicly ballyhooed as making it harder for judges to issue suppression orders, which had become endemic.

Justice Collins was also at the center of the Christchurch Earthquake Commissions’ corruption scandal in 2013, ordering an injunction against publishing sensitive information showing the government agency misled thousands of earthquake victims into believing the EQC’s assessment of their repairs were much lower than they actually were.  The agency spent over $150,000 in legal costs while Collins refused to clarify his order after it was challenged by blogger Marc Krieger.

In November 2013, Collins ordered the EQC pay independent assessor Bryan Staples $7,000 for wrongly serving the injunction on him.  Krieger moved to Switzerland two weeks before but Collins directed the trial for alleged breach of the injunction proceed against him in absentia.

In Rabson v Registrar of the Supreme Court [2015] NZHC 709, Collins J ruled Registrars of the higher courts are not judicially reviewable while accepting no alternative legal remedy to judicial review likely existed.  No analysis of the ‘guarantee’ to judicial review afforded by s27(2) the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 was undertaken.  Judge Collins’ reasoning was Registrars are ‘supervised’ by judges of the courts they work within.

Collins follows former SG political appointees John McGrath, Terrence Arnold, Lowell Goddard and Ellen France to the NZ Court.

Background / Education: Justice David Collins graduated with an LLB (Hons) (First Class) from Victoria University of Wellington in 1975, subsequently gaining an LLM in 1976 and an LLD in 1993, also both from Victoria University.

Justice David Collins commenced practice with Chapman Tripp in 1979, leaving in 1982 to join the firm now known as Rainey Collins, where he subsequently became a partner, specialising in appearances before professional disciplinary tribunals.David Collins was admitted to the State of Victoria Bar and the High Court of Australia Bar in 1986. In 1995 Collins left the partnership.  He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2000.
In September 2006 Justice Collins was appointed Solicitor-General and became the head of the Crown Law Office.

Prior to his appointment as Solicitor-General, Justice Collins was Chair of the Accident Compensation Commission, and Chair of the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal. From 2000 to 2001 he was a consultant to the World Health Organisation. Justice Collins is an Executive Vice President and member of the Board of Governors, World Association of Law and Medicine. He has published a number of articles and was the author of “Medical Law in New Zealand” in 1992.

Degrees: LLB (1975), LLM (1976) and LLD (1993), all from Victoria University in Wellington
Admitted to the Bar: 1976
Company Involvements: COLLINS, David Brian HARBOUR VIEW HOLDINGS LIMITED (40580) – Director Director Appointed 20 Jun 1991 20 Cheviot Road, Lowry Bay, Wellington, 5013, New ZealandCOLLINS, David Brian RAINEY COLLINS AND OLPHERT SOLICITORS NOMINEE COMPANY LIMITED (22669)(Struck off) – Director Director Appointed 01 Jan 1990 103 Muritai Rd, Wellington, 5013, New ZealandCOLLINS, David Brian RAINEY COLLINS WRIGHT & CO SOLICITORS NOMINEE COMPANY LIMITED (288420)(Struck off) – Director Director Appointed 11 Sep 1992 103 Muritai Road, Eastbourne, Wellington, 5013, New ZealandCOLLINS, David Brian THE NEW ZEALAND CENTRE FOR LAW LIMITED (630068)(Struck off) – Director Director Appointed 04 Oct 1994 20 Cheviot Road, Lowry Bay, Eastbourne, 5013, New ZealandCOLLINS, David Brian WOODWARD SERVICES LIMITED (24466)(Struck off) – Ceased Director Ceased Director Resigned 17 May 1993 103 Muritai Road, Eastbourne, WellingtonCOLLINS, David Brian  WITSEND LIMITED (1138660) – Director
Director Appointed 07 Feb 2002 20 Cheviot Road, Lowry Bay, Wellington, 5013, New ZealandCOLLINS, David Brian HARBOUR VIEW HOLDINGS LIMITED (40580) – Shareholder Shareholder 50% (Individually Held) 20 Cheviot Road, Lowry BayCOLLINS, David Brian RAINEY COLLINS WRIGHT & CO SOLICITORS NOMINEE COMPANY LIMITED(288420)(Struck off) – Shareholder Shareholder 1 shares (Individually Held) 103 Muritai Road, Eastbourne, WellingtonCOLLINS, David Brian WITSEND LIMITED (1138660) – Shareholder

Personal Data

Born: 1954 Sex: Male
Married: yes Children: 3 children
Interesting Relationships and Coincidences: