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In another life lesson of how New Zealand justice is dealt comes a case stranger than fiction.  It concerns a long lingering case of a coddled repeat fraudster, where blanket court suppression orders protected his “privacy” and where this offender then indirectly manipulated police resources to prosecute a Neil Wellswhistle-blower under a non-existent charge in order to keep his offending secret.

It began in 2006, when Transparency New Zealand blogger Grace Haden published evidence revealing lawyer Neil Wells (pictured) was siphoning animal control fines in Waitakere City Council to his private trust with a similar name to the City agency.  The politically-connected lawyer who had assisted the NZ government in writing animal control legislation obtained a gag order and sued for defamation.

Haden’s defence was struck out for late filing and no trial was held.  Instead, without evidence from a trial to rely upon, District Court Judge Roderick Joyce ordered costs in a ruling which admitted the Judge had conducted his own web searches to support his ruling.  The allegations and evidence against Wells were suppressed.  Though justice did not rule the day, Wells was compelled to discontinue his fraud of Council coffers, temporarily forfeited his lawyer practicing certificate and moved to Te Kuiti.

Proving corruption is perpetuated if not emboldened by court suppression orders which prevent public awareness, Wells moved on to defraud “a vulnerable elderly woman and long-time friend with some cognitive impairment” according to the NZ Law Society Standards Committee.  The Committee pointed to Wells’ “lack of insight or remorse” following his offending.

In a 24 November 2016 Disciplinary Tribunal ruling Wells was ordered to pay $25,700 in compensation and costs.  The Tribunal accepted the “more egregious and conflicted behaviour had begun during the period when (Wells) did not hold a practicing certificate and before he had been issued with a practicing certificate in mid-July 2014” and therefore could not be taken into account by the Tribunal.   Conversely the Tribunal cited Wells’ fragile health, many years of community service and agreement to no longer practice law as mitigating factors.  These were also given as Tribunal reasons to again conceal his identity from the unsuspecting public, mindful they had accepted he had previously ‘parked’ his lawyer credentials before he scammed his long-time friend – and this period had absolved him of his “more egregious and conflicted behaviour” because it lied outside the authority of the Tribunal.

A week ago two police officers appeared at Ms Haden’s door with a summons she appear in the Napier District Court two days later on the charge she “Breached a suppression order under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006”.  The police refused to tell her what the order stated, saying they would be in breach of the suppression order if they identified it.

Haden then emailed the police claiming the summons failed to properly inform her and was therefore unenforceable.  Police responded with this heavily redacted Tribunal decision where only a reference to name suppression being justified was left unredacted.  Even the Waikato Bay of Plenty Standard Committee applicant was blacked out despite their strong submissions opposing name suppression on grounds it would breach open justice to do so.

It turns out the Disciplinary Tribunal had not issued an order of suppression but simply asserted suppression binding the world was justified.  Meanwhile the police appear to be operating on a copy of a letter sent from the Disciplinary Tribunal to Legal Council for the Ministry of Justice which relays it received a complaint from Wells against Haden’s blog.  The letter says “It is clear from the blog, which is attached, that the suppression order has been breached”, but police were not provided any identified wording claimed to be in breach.  They were merely given the blog’s URL address.

No one since has asserted any wording from Haden’s blog as being in breach of the now-identified as non-existent suppression order.

Nevertheless police have sought to continue with prosecuting the charge and Ms Haden has been bailed to appear again in two weeks time.  The irony that the identity of a repeat lawbreaker is being concealed by police criminal enforcement of a non-existent order against the law-abiding world seems completely lost on the New Zealand Police enforcers.