The judge in the South Canterbury Finance fraud trial has
declined an application by the defence to stand down.
Justice Paul Heath is the sitting judge in the High Court
trial of former SCF chief executive Lachie McLeod, 50, and
two of the company's former directors, lawyer Edward
Sullivan, 72, and accountant Robert White, 70.
Today's hearing was held after the head of the Serious Fraud
Office (SFO) told a conference prior to the trial beginning
that they were lucky to have Justice Heath as the trial
Justice Heath this afternoon told the Timaru court he had
considered all the evidence and had decided to dismiss the
application, and the trial would now continue.
In what has been described as New Zealand's biggest ever
fraud trial, McLeod, Sullivan and White have all denied a
$1.6 billion fraud.
The trial before Justice Heath alone is set down for 3-4
months and is a document heavy case, with the Crown relying
heavily on the evidence of paperwork.
A total of 40 Crown witnesses, including former SCF
employees, people involved in transactions with various
companies, and forensic or expert witnesses, are expected to
The start of the trial was delayed for an hour last Wednesday
morning over concerns that a comment made the previous week
by the boss of the SFO could have led to a perception that
Justice Heath was biased towards the Crown.
SFO director Julie Read referred to Justice Heath as "our
judge" while speaking at the 13th Annual Corporate Insolvency
and Restructuring Conference in Auckland.
Lawyers for the three accused, Pip Hall QC, Bruce Squire QC,
and Jonathan Eaton QC wanted a delay to the start of the
trial in order to look more closely at the issue and to see
if the judge should consider stepping down from presiding
over the trial.
Justice Heath said it was "extraordinary" to think anyone
would possibly think he would be anything other than
He declined to recuse himself, saying proceedings should
continue, and if defence counsel wished, they would be given
time to formally pursue the matter further, which is what
- By Newstalk ZB and APNZ