Banks to stand trial

John Banks
John Banks
Act Party leader John Banks will stand trial for allegedly filing a false electoral return.

High Court judge Justice Paul Heath delivered his decision today, remanding Banks at large until a callover later this month.

Banks resigned from his ministerial portfolios after Auckland District Court judge Phil Gittos said the "evidence clearly shows that Mr Banks was aware of the source'' of donations from Kim Dotcom and SkyCity and could "not properly'' have declared them as anonymous on his electoral return for his failed campaign for the Auckland mayoralty in 2010.

Judge Gittos said there was enough evidence to commit Banks to trial on a charge under the Local Electoral Act - which he wrongly called Local Elections Act - after the private prosecution by retired accountant Graham McCready.

The case was taken over by Solicitor-General Michael Heron QC but the Act Party leader filed an urgent appeal to the High Court at Auckland to review the decision.

Rejecting the appeal, Justice Heath said he was not satisfied there was "any fundamental flaw in the process adopted by the District Court judge''.

"I accept that the consequences of the committal order on Mr Banks are serious,'' Justice Heath continued.

"Anyone in Mr Banks' position would be concerned about facing trial for an offence that carried a maximum sentence of imprisonment, if the charge were proved.''

However, he concluded: "Mr Banks' position in not materially different from any person in good standing in the community who is charged with a serious criminal offence.

"In the absence of any fundamental problem with the decision to commit, on evidential sufficiency grounds, reputational factors are not sufficient for the court to intervene by way of judicial review.''

Justice Heath wished to emphasised the "preliminary nature of the decision to commit for trial''.

"On the evidence adduced to date a fact-finder at trial may or may not find 'knowledge' proved beyond reasonable doubt. At this stage, Mr Banks is entitled to the presumption of innocence that applies to any person charged with a criminal offence in New Zealand.''

Given the potential consequences of the case, Justice Heath released a supplementary decision ordering the trial to be transferred from the District Court to the High Court.

This was because if Banks were convicted, the Epsom electoral seat, which he still holds, would be declared vacant.

Justice Heath also acknowledged that Banks' Act Party has a confidence and supply agreement with the National-led Government.

"A general election is scheduled for next year and the outcome of this trial could conceivably have an impact on the result of the general election.

"It is in the public interest that the senior trial court conduct the trial.''

Justice Heath added that the case should be given priority as it would be undesirable to have a trial near to polling day.

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