Tragedy follows David Collins

The New Zealand Police confirmed to kiwisfirst this week they are investigating New Zealand Solicitor General David Collins for criminal conduct under s111 of the Crimes Act, namely making a false declaration to the High Court in May 2007.

The false declaration was an attempt to cover up a deliberate breach by Mr Collins of a confidential agreement, as well as a Court suppression order, made in a sexual abuse case he had prosecuted against a health professional when in private practice.

The alleged offence came shortly after Mr Collins was appointed by the Labour Government to the post of the Nation’s highest ranking lawyer (His sole superior, Michael Cullen, is perhaps the only Attorney General in the world’s democracies who is not a lawyer).  If convicted of the charge, Collins would face Parliamentary removal from office and up to seven years in prison.

Mr Collins’ legal problems began when he solicited Horowhenua author Anne Hunt in 2001 to write a book about a case where he had acted as lawyer to a woman who had sued her former therapist for sexual abuse.  Because Collins believed this was not an isolated abuse, he deliberately sought to undermine the pall of secrecy placed over the case by order of High Court Judge Lester Chisholm.  In the shroud of secrecy that pervades a great deal of New Zealand Court commerce, the case had officially been recorded as W v W.

Ms Hunt was convinced by Mr Collins to write the book about a secret trial which, in turn, resulted in the book Ms Hunt wrote – Broken Silence – being banned by order of the Court and Ms Hunt personally facing contempt of court charges in yet another secret trial at the Wellington High Court.  The suppression orders imposed on her contempt trial were such that Ms Hunt was prevented from telling even her husband that she was facing a modern day bookburning and possible financial ruin.  Because Mr Collins had disowned her, Ms Hunt was found guilty of contempt of court and ordered to pay substantial fine and costs.  Orders were issued to destroy all copies of her book.

In finding Hunt guilty, Judge John Wild had set aside her evidence relating to Collins – including a manuscript which Ms Hunt had submitted to Mr Collins for vetting and which contained his handwritten notations on a total of 41 pages – on the grounds she had not called Mr Collins as a witness.  As her lawyer Steven Price later explained to the Court of Appeal, she did not have confidence in the reliability of Mr Collins’ evidence after his Brief to the Court denied asking Ms Hunt to write the book or merely providing advice to her in respect of it.  Under rules of evidence, Mr Collins would not be allowed to be challenged on his answers under oath because he would technically be called as Ms Hunt’s defence witness.

Detective in charge of the criminal complaint Rod Drew confirmed the original complainant Ms. Hunt had declined to personally follow through on the matter but that the Police considered evidence sufficient to investigate the complaint in the public interest.  Further comment was declined on the basis the investigation is ongoing.  It is known that the book manuscript with David Collins’ handwritten notations throughout was picked up by Detective Drew from the Editor of the Dominion Post newspaper during June.

In an ironic twist, Solicitor General Collins is prosecuting the Dominion Post for contempt of Court for breaching the suppression order he sought and obtained on behalf of the Crown from High Court Justice Helen Winkelmann in the terrorist prosecution debacle last year.  After initiating the ‘terrorist’ action, Collins was forced by November 2007, slightly more than a month later, to abandon the prosecution.  In doing so he blamed the ambiguity of the terrorist legislation for his reversal of position.  Nonetheless, Winkelmann J’s order continues to prevent the public from knowing what Police ‘evidence’ was used to commit 18 New Zealanders to prison – many without bail – last October.  The Dominion Post contempt trial is set to begin on 15 September in the Wellington High Court.

In related actions, Collins threatened to prosecute TV3 and, last February, ordered a 6 hour siege by Police on the home of kiwisfirst Publisher Vince Siemer because Mr Siemer admitted to possessing and reading the Police affidavit.  Mr Siemer and his wife were detained in their pajamas while 12 detectives tore up their home in the early morning raid in search of Mr Siemer’s library card and a floral print shirt after Mr Siemer went public to reveal the ‘paramilitary uniforms’ claimed to have been worn by the ‘terrorists’ were actually sportman’s camouflage and denounce the full extent of Police ‘evidence’ put forth as little more than innuendo based on juvenile bluster by small-time criminals and their innocent associates.  Police have still not returned much of the Siemer’s personal property they seized on the day, including significant electronic gear and legal and tax files.

The current criminal Police investigation points to a raft of questionable conduct by Collins since being appointed Solicitor General in September 2006.  Earlier this year, Collins twice applied to the Wellington High Court to have Feilding Barrister Dr Rob Moodie bankrupted after earlier telling him the 14 year old Berryman legal case would never be settled by his office (Keith and Margaret Berryman were earlier bankrupted and the case for justice was being maintained only because Dr Moodie had agreed to handle the matter on a success basis).  For 10 of those 14 years, the case was mired in secrecy, until Dr Moodie audaciously published the full engineer’s suppressed evidence on the internet – an action which put him in breach of a Court order that forbade accurate evidence previously rejected by the New Zealand Courts from being revealed.  Dr Moodie avoided the bankruptcy order of High Court Judge Wild by respectively paying a $35,000 and $15,000 ransom to the Solicitor General.

Recently, Public Watchdog Penny Bright has been bombarding Parliament and calling for an independent commission of corruption to be set up, partly in response to Mr Collins’ blocking of her petition, sponsored by Epsom MP Rodney Hide, for a Parliamentary inquiry into the imprisonment of Mr Siemer by Potter J in July 2007.  The Select Committee dropped the matter in August 2007 after Collins falsely claimed the matter was sub judice when it was not.   Misleading Parliament is a criminal offense.

In May of this year, Collins created consternation around the Commonwealth by suggesting the Crown would retry George Gwaze for murder after a jury had acquitted him.  In a development which underscores the lack of accountability in the Crown Office under Mr Collins, a jury member from the Gwaze acquittal has gone public to describe how poorly the Crown has prosecuted the murder case.  This, after it was initially and broadly reported that the Crown was unprepared and unable to merely establish the cause of death of the alleged victim.

The ‘terrorist’ debacle is also still plaguing Collins, with his prosecution of the Dominion Post paradoxically threatening to expose his complicity in perverting the course of justice in the ‘terrorist’ prosecution.  In the Auckland High Court on 16 June 2008, Solicitor General Collins was subpoenaed as a witness in a civil prosecution he brought forth on behalf of a private citizen, Auckland Insolvency practitioner Michael Stiassny.  Under examination Collins claimed never to have seen an unlawful order by a New Zealand judge and pointedly replied that orders to submit to medical testing or prohibiting different races from associating would be lawful orders if given by a New Zealand judge.   Though few in the Courtroom realized it at the time, it could hardly have escaped presiding Judge Lester Chisholm (of the W v W blanket suppression order) when Mr Collins spoke with conviction that contempt of court in civil cases was serious enough to warrant prosecution by the State.

Through most of his short tenor as S-G, Mr Collins has been protected by the powerful Queen’s Counsel club, of which he is a member and, from which, a great many New Zealand judges hail.  Immediate past president of the New Zealand Law Bar Association and fellow Queen’s Counsel Jim Farmer has so far prevented Parliamentary action against his colleague after a ferocious lobby which stressed the peril to MP’s raising this contentious issue in an election year.  As a Labour appointee, it is not surprising the Labour Party are hoping Collins’ legal problems will remain largely hidden under the carpet.  However, National Leader John Key told his caucus in May that exposing judicial corruption (the S-G has a quasi-judicial function) is not in the Country’s interest because it may cause the public to lose faith in the Judiciary.  Justice Lester Chisholm, who never made the QC club, was neutered by Mr Collins’ public criticism of His Honour’s handling of the high profile Gwaze murder case.  Investigative Dominion Post Reporter Phil Kitchin first tried to bring to light Mr Collins’ legal transgressions in the W v W case last October but was prevented from doing so by the newspaper’s New Zealand lawyers.  The legally-vetted version eventually appeared in the newspaper a month later.

What was it the DomPost’s lawyers would not let Mr Kitchin report?  Mr Kitchin refused comment other than to say editorial changes to articles are part of the normal process any reporter must endure.  Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence suggests the original report dealt more with the specifics of Mr Collins’ declaration to the High Court and the implausibility of a rational explanation for the alleged deception.

The Dominion Post story stated Mr Collins’ handwritten notes “include corrections designed to prevent breaches of suppression orders and crossing out a section dealing with a confidential settlement conference”.   However the article fails to refer to the sworn affidavit, which is at the centre of the complaint Ms Hunt made to the police.  Still, Ms Hunt believes few journalists would have had the courage to push as hard as Mr Kitchin to get the story published at all.

During a videotaped interview with Mr Kitchin, Ms Hunt was asked whether she considered Mr Collins fit to be Solicitor-General. She says she was realistic enough to understand no lawyer would allow her response to be used.  She has known Mr Collins since he vetted her first book, published in 1983, and had once admired him.   It was therefore difficult for her to concede that he had let her down badly and that she could no longer trust him to tell the truth on oath in court – as his sworn affidavit made clear.

By the time Ms Hunt was embroiled in her contempt trial, Collins had been appointed Solicitor General.  It was then that Mr Collins avoided personal responsibility by pointing blame at Ms Hunt even though she had earlier made it quite clear to him writing the book was not something she wished to pursue – prompting Collins at the time to call a private meeting to convince her to persevere with the book.  Mr Collins also told both Ms Hunt and her husband to keep the book project secret.  The resultant guilty finding of contempt devastated them and Ms Hunt blames the tremendous strain the secret trial and guilty verdict imposed on both of them – her husband was not allowed in Court and they had to meet clandestinely before and after trial for fear of being additionally charged with breach of the suppression order – for her husband’s death of a heart attack at the age of 55.

In his sworn affidavit, Collins suggested Hunt had written the crucial letter indicating his deliberate contempt for court orders when, in fact, he had written the letter.  With all the figurative knives Mr Collins stuck in her back, this one causes the most lingering pain for Anne Hunt, but it is the loss of her life partner which she considers to be the real and lasting tragedy.