John Banks. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The High Court has ruled embattled Act Party leader John
Banks should stand trial on electoral fraud charges next year
but the trial will likely be fast-tracked so it can be
completed before campaigning for the general election begins.
Mr Banks appealed to the High Court over District Court Judge
Phil Gittos' committal hearing decision that he should face
charges of filing a false electoral return.
The charges relate to donations Mr Banks solicited and
received from controversial internet millionaire Kim Dotcom
and casino company SkyCity which were later declared as
anonymous in the electoral return he signed for his 2010
Auckland mayoralty campaign.
Mr Banks' lawyers argued that Judge Gittos made several
errors of fact in his ruling. But while he acknowledged those
errors in his decision yesterday, the High Court's Justice
Paul Heath said they did not have "any material effect" on
Judge Gittos' decision to commit Mr Banks for trial.
"The critical part of the judge's decision was based on Mr
Banks' receiving the donations, knowing they had come from
both Mr Dotcom's interests and SkyCity and with an intention
that they not be disclosed in the return."
Justice Heath also agreed with the lawyers for Mr Banks and
the Crown that the trial should take place in the High Court
rather than the District Court as originally ordered by Judge
This was because if Mr Banks were convicted, the Epsom
electoral seat, which he still holds, would be declared
vacant and also because of the Act Party's confidence and
supply agreement with the Government.
He also noted the outcome of the trial could conceivably have
an impact on the result of the election.
For the same reasons he said the case should be given
priority as it would be undesirable to have it near to
polling day. He understood it could be held in the first
quarter of next year depending on whether Mr Banks chose
trial by jury or before a judge alone.
Justice Heath also pointed out Mr Banks still had the option
of challenging his committal for trial under section 347 of
the Crimes Act. That would allow lawyers for the Crown and Mr
Banks to put new evidence before a judge who would make yet
another decision on whether he should go to trial.
"I imagine that's an option Mr Banks will take," said legal
expert Graeme Edgeler.
"But given what the judge has said and we've now got a
District Court and a High Court judge saying there's enough
evidence here, this is a matter for trial ... it's unlikely
Mr Banks was last night laying low. A spokesman said he was
considering the judgment and consulting with his lawyers
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key said that as the
matter was still before the courts, it wouldn't be
appropriate for him to comment.
Act President John Boscawen also refused to comment.
Former Act leader Richard Prebble said while the media had
tried Mr Banks and found him guilty, the answers Mr Banks had
given to questions about the donations "seem totally
- Adam Bennett of the New Zealand Herald