Key’s Cuppa Costs Stiffing Cameraman or Taxpayer?

Politics got buried under Christmas trivia, family dysfunction and exhaustion.   Not just mine. A lot of the media and opposition  have also been asleep on watch.   Except for the king trouble maker.   Winston Peters is back  and revving up well.   He spotted a claim by the Crown for costs, sensitively lodged on Christmas Eve, in respect of the declaratory judgment (not given) sought by the cameraman, Ambrose, who left his tape running during the tea party.   $14,000 all up.

Ministers can only claim legal costs when they are on ministerial business and that is the last thing John Key and John Banks were engaged in during their indiscreet and gossipy cuppa.  This is Winston’s fulminatory argument and it looked pretty good.   A day or so later  a Herald editorial described the costs claim as vindictive but didn’t mention Winston or challenge the claim’s validity.

Nothing in DomPost.   Or much else.   It has been a challenge to check facts, not least because the in house lawyer was also dozing.   As were other lawyers bumped into.  Or their memories of who and what were wrong but expressed with such assurance I fell for them.    And just as I thought I had got it sorted dozing in-house lawyer woke up and allowed Crown may have appeared as an interested party.   To find out if this was the case I would have to check the court file  and probably  wouldn’t be allowed to.   And didn’t want to.   So I took my favoured course of action and rang the Attorney-General’s office (whose name had featured somewhere) and learnt the same afternoon that he had appeared as an intervenor (which more or less means interested party).  Ministerial staff can be very helpful.

In public interest cases costs traditionally fall where they lie i e parties carry their own costs.   That makes very good sense.   It doesn’t always happen.  I am treasurer of a group which contemplated seeking leave to appear as an interested party in a case of considerable public interest where costs had been awarded against the Crown.  That wasn’t the reason for appearing but it never entered our honourable minds to not pay our own costs.

Stiffing the cameraman does look like a vendetta.   Key invited the media to his tea party.  Ambrose did not invite the Crown to join his case.   Finlayson was not dragged into court.   And was it a case of public interest?  Winston doesn’t think so.   There is something very uncomfortable about public interest entwining so closely with the private interests of Key and National.    Key’s complaint to the police had stifled publication before the election anyway.   And he doesn’t incur costs in respect of that.   Worse, skewering Ambrose revives shades of Muldoonism.  The media had taken far to long to demonstrate it is not entirely a National lapdog.

What do National’s 28 honourable but costly ministers make of all this?

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