The National Party Six – ex-ministers and staffers pursued by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters for supposedly leaking details of his superannuation overpayment – want him to pay the costs of answering his abandoned court action.
Lawyers for the group, which includes former Prime Minister Bill English and ministers Paula Bennett, Steven Joyce and Anne Tolley, as well as English’s former chief of staff Wayne Eagleson and the party’s election campaign communications chief Clark Hennessy will go back to the High Court next month over the costs if Peters doesn’t agree to pay.
National’s refusal to walk away out-of-pocket indicates the party is in no mood to give Peters a break following the bad blood of its futile coalition negotiation with him in October.
Two journalists caught up in the Peters’ legal driftnet, myself and Newshub‘s Lloyd Burr, accepted Peters’ legal backdown without pursuing him for costs.
It is not known whether Crown Law, representing another ‘intended defendant’, the chief executive of the Ministry of Social Development Brendan Boyle, will seek money back from Peters on behalf of the taxpayer or leave the Deputy Prime Minister to deal only with National’s lawyers.
Peters tried to claim his action had obtained information from the journalists and that he had been promised information from Boyle under the Official Information Act, thus justifying ending the action for Pre-Commencement Discovery. He had not, in fact, received any material of the type he sought from the media and the OIA response from the ministry was underway before Boyle first answered Peters’ allegations.
The MP claims National’s answers provided him with more information than he needed to begin a ‘second phase’ of action against the ex-ministers and staffers. But no date or detail has been provided for follow-up action, which may or may not be alleging a breach of privacy under a Common Law tort.
National’s counsel, Peter Kiely, told the High Court “the six intended defendants seek costs from the applicant for the non-pursuit and/or the withdrawal of his application”.
He asked that the matter be kept on the duty judge’s list for the next date set aside for the Peters’ matter to be heard, March 5, so the parties could make submissions in case they had not been able to resolve the costs issue.
Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry had also told the court there was “an issue as to costs to be resolved” with the National Party Six, which he thought could be “amicably” sorted. However the matter would best remain on the Court’s list for the March date.
The Henry memorandum to the court said Peters’ side could “indicate to the Court” that further pre-proceedings could be initiated against other intended defendants.
National’s stance on costs, which is probably more symbolic than intended to recover much from Peters, comes as pundits speculate about whether the party is intending to forge better relations with Peters and his New Zealand First Party after it ditched National in favour of Labour after coalition negotiations. Peters’ legal action had been signed and filed the day before the September 23 general election thus calling into question how his party could negotiate in good faith with National in the following weeks.