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
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
"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.