Upper court bluntly tells new High Court judge he was wrong, then makes its own blunders
The Appeal Court today set aside the ruling of High Court judge Robert Chambers on the long-running case of Arrigato’s subdivision at Pakiri, thus restoring the decision of the Environment Court to allow the coastal subdivision of 148ha into 14 lots.
The Appeal Court said, bluntly, that Justice Chambers had been drawn into reaching his own conclusions on the subdivision instead of deliberating on whether the conclusion the Environment Court reached was open to that court in law.
Justice Chambers had himself criticised the Environment Court — Judge Gordon Whiting & two commissioners — for trying to “reformulate” what it considered the Rodney district plan objectives & policies for the Pakiri area should be.
Appeal Court does High Court judge’s job
So, in effect, the Appeal Court has carried out the task Justice Chambers should have been applying himself to, assessing questions of law.
But in doing so, the Appeal Court bench of Justices Gault, Keith & Tipping (with the judgment delivered by Justice Tipping) has reached some curious conclusions of its own.
At paragraph 8 of his judgment, Justice Tipping wrote: “It is clear from his judgment that Justice Chambers did not rely upon any specific identified misunderstanding but rather upon the proposition that in reaching the conclusion it did the Environment Court must have misunderstood the objectives and policies of the plan.” The previous paragraph referred to Justice Chambers’ references to Rodney District Council’s plan change 55 and to other, various statutory documents.
That conclusion by Justice Tipping is a remarkable one because Justice Chambers moved from his general conclusion, in paragraph 29 of his judgment, through several paragraphs in which he itemised his disagreement with the legal views of the Environment Court.
The Appeal Court:
has dealt unsatisfactorily, in the end, with the word “enhancement” and its place in the planning regimes
reached an invalid conclusion on Justice Chambers’ observation of the importance the Environment Court gave to this factor
fumbled over an extension to recent “as of right” rulings
and talked around a generally important issue of weight to be given to existing but unimplemented resource consents before coming down with an equivocation.With that amount of criticism of the Appeal Court judgment, the question arises of whether that court proved competent in assessing the performance of the High Court judge.
On key issues of the roles of the lower courts, the Appeal Court has presented clear, concise findings. Throughout, the Appeal Court has found the Environment Court was entitled to reach conclusions that it did reach, and that Justice Chambers erred in working his way to different views, and in the conclusions he reached.