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Court hearing aborted after judge reveals 70s support for environmental group

Appeal against Karikari resort project set back possibly six months

A two-day High Court hearing scheduled for the High Court in Whangarei this week has been set back possibly six months after the judge who was to hear it, Justice Robert Chambers, offered to disqualify himself.

The judge (right) sent a letter to the court registrar in Whangarei explaining his position last week, six days before the hearing.

The case has been brought by the Environmental Defence Society against the Far North District Council in an appeal against consent granted for a golfcourse, vineyard and coastal resort project at Whatuwhiwhi, on the Karikari Peninsula, which curves round on the top side of Doubtless Bay.

Ian Gillespie, involved in long-running litigation to get a coastal lifestyle block subdivision at the southern end of Pakiri Beach approved, was instrumental in the Karikari land purchase five years ago by two Americans, but sold his interest to his partners as their plans grew.

The Environmental Defence Society almost went to ground until its leading light, Gary Taylor, revived it last year with a promise of concerted action against development proposals.

EDS also lobbied against Pakiri consent

The society also got involved in the Pakiri case, lobbying hard for the Auckland Regional Council to appeal against the Environment Court’s decision to grant Mr Gillespie consent.

That appeal went to the High Court, where Justice Chambers, in his first work in environmental law as a judge, expressed incredulity at the Environment Court’s decision as he ordered the case back for a rehearing.

In that case, Justice Chambers made no mention of his personal support for environmental causes.

On the surface, there was no conflict of interest for him because the Environmental Defence Society, of which he is a past member, was not directly involved although it had promoted its interest through the regional council lobby.

In the Karikari case, the judge sent his letter explaining saying he was a director of the Environmental Defence Society in the 1970s, but was no longer a member.

He added that he is a financial supporter of the Ecologic Foundation, previously better known as the Maruia Society, but holds no office.

Justice Chambers then asked if any of the parties objected to his sitting on the case, which the Americans did, through their company, Carrington Farms Ltd, and counsel Paul Cavanagh QC.

It’s the sort of case where an Auckland-based judge will pass through Whangarei for the hearing — and all the lawyers do the same. Next time, it is likely to be transferred to Auckland for hearing, which would mean a late conflict call such as Justice Chambers’ can be more easily overcome.

However, getting a hearing date is not easy. Mr Cavanagh has a court programme through to April next year, and he expected the environmental society’s counsel, Gerard Curry, and counsel for the district council, Mark Cooper, would be in similar positions.

The judge’s revelation of his support for the various environmental groups has left Mr Gillespie fuming, after having his Pakiri project delayed yet again, and he expressed interest in seeking to have the High Court judgment set aside.

However his lawyer, Richard Brabant, said he, too, was a member of the Environmental Defence Society in the 70s. He is now concentrating on applying to Justice Chambers for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal against last month’s Pakiri judgment. That hearing is set down for 20 November.

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