In a world where the press are increasingly controlled by State or political interests, and every conspiracy theorist has a voice on the worldwide web, it can prove a daunting task to discern reality from fiction without citing actual records. Nowhere is this challenge more pronounced than the New Zealand Court system, as yet another draconian example of secrecy exposed this month.
Since March 2012, the most oppressive interim gagging orders any court can issue have prevented alleged corporate misfeasance involving one of New Zealand’s more wealthy and influential families from being made public. The ex parte gag orders issued by the High Court under the disguise of “Z v Z” are so extreme that the family member targeted by the gag injunction was prohibited for more than 3 years from discussing the allegations against his brother and wider family members with his own lawyer.
A lawful requirement by recipients of interim gag orders – particularly ex parte orders – is they must simultaneously or promptly thereafter file proceedings to maintain the injunction. The applicant in the “Z” case never filed a substantive claim to underpin his gagging injunction. Incredibly the applicant argued successfully that the gagged party would issue his own claim and that the source of this information was “a mutual acquaintance”. Though this never eventuated, High Court Justice Peter Woodhouse refused to rescind the gag orders in late 2015 on the puzzling basis that slow action on the victim’s part reinforced in the Judge’s mind that the still stand-alone interim gagging orders were justified. Again Woodhouse perversely put the burden on the gagged party to issue his own proceedings as a pre-condition to having the gag orders against him lifted.
The stench of preferential secret treatment by the Court was unmistakable even though it was impossible to know what courtesan influences were at play. Despite suppression orders flowing generally from the New Zealand courts like water over Huka Falls this one was special because of the obsequious deference the judges were showing a powerful and wealthy Aucklander accused of financial impropriety in a public role – through the most clandestine manner they could orchestrate.
Although the judicial actions were completely obscured the judicial message was transparent enough that establishment lawyers including at least a couple Queens Counsels turned down the respondent’s brief to challenge the gag order and seek remedy.
As only those with first-hand experience with the New Zealand courts can relate the respondent’s experience proved such an affront to basic sensibilities he held of justice and what the courts supposedly stood for that he eventually **CENSORED BY COURT ORDER**. Now that he is back he obtained a preliminary victory at the Court of Appeal which issued a judgment modifying the gag order and accepting it was wrong to put the onus on the respondent to defeat the gag orders before also accepting his legal position “had undoubtedly been restricted by such a wide-ranging gagging order”.
The powerful and influential Auckland family **CENSORED BY COURT ORDER**.
Instead of “Z v Z” the Court of Appeal changed the parties to “A”, “R” and “X”, proving yet again that even on a good day New Zealand Courts hold a unique world view of open justice and transparency.