Act leader John Banks has lost his bid to avoid trial for alleged electoral fraud.
A High Court judge has found there is no basis on which he should interfere with a District Court Judge’s decision to commit Mr Banks for trial. Mr Banks has gone to ground since the judge’s decision was released tonight.
An Auckland District Court judge found in October that there was sufficient evidence for Mr Banks to stand trial on charges of filing a false electoral return on donations made to his campaign for the Auckland mayoralty in 2010.
It is alleged a $50,000 donation by internet millionaire Kim Dotcom’s $50,000 and a $15,000 one from SkyCity were recorded on Mr Banks’ electoral return as anonymous when he allegedly knew who they were from.
Mr Banks went to the High Court seeking a judicial review of the District Court decision and he appeared at a hearing on the matter last week.
Justice Heath said in his judgement Mr Banks is entitled to the presumption of innocence that applies to anybody charged with a criminal offence in New Zealand.
But he said it is in the public interest that the case be subject to a trial because Mr Banks is an MP who would lose his seat if he was convicted, is the leader of the ACT Party which has a confidence and supply agreement with the National Government, and the outcome of the trial could conceivably have an impact on the result of the general election next year.
Trial ‘in the first quarter’
Justice Heath has recommended that Mr Banks’ trial be given priority on the criminal list.
“It is undesirable that a trial, the result of which could have a material impact on a general election, be delayed until a time proximate to polling day,” he said.
Justice Heath said he understands that, depending on whether Mr Banks elects trial by jury or Judge-alone, a hearing date might be available in the first quarter of next year.
Justice Heath said he accepts that the consequences of the committal order on Mr Banks are serious.
“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,” he said.
“But, in many respects, for any person of standing in the community, reputational issues are to the forefront. Those concerns are especially acute when an accused holds an elected public office.”
“For someone who has been in public life in New Zealand for over 30 years, most notably as a former Mayor of Auckland, a long-time Member of Parliament and a Cabinet Minister, the mere fact of committal does have a significant effect. That said, Mr Banks’ position is not materially different from any person of good standing in the community who is charged with a serious criminal offence,” he said.
Banks maintained innocence
At the High Court hearing last week, Mr Banks maintained he has done nothing wrong, and his lawyer, David Jones QC, told the High Court that the decision to commit Mr Banks to trial was “fundamentally flawed”.
Mr Jones said District Court Judge Gittos’ decision-making process was “de-railed” and should not stand.
“The essence of this case is what was in the return? Was it false, and if so, critically, was Mr Banks aware?” Mr Jones told the court.
However, Solicitor General Michael Heron said there was no basis for a judicial review, claiming there was “no significant factual error made”.
“(Mr Banks) knew they were being made, knew that they had been received and at the same time made it clear his intentions and desire that these donations be anonymous,” Mr Heron told the court.
Last year, the police decided not to prosecute Mr Banks over the allegations, due to insufficient evidence.
But in a private prosecution brought by retired accountant Graham McCready, evidence from Kim Dotcom and a SkyCity boss convinced the judge there was a case to answer.
The Solicitor-General has since taken over the prosecution of Mr Banks.
Source ONE News..