Pike River prosecution withdrawal unlawful

RNZ: Pike River prosecution withdrawal unlawful – Supreme Court

It was unlawful for WorkSafe to withdraw its prosecution of Pike River mine boss Peter Whittall, in exchange for payments to the victims’ families, the Supreme Court has ruled.

WorkSafe New Zealand initially laid 12 health and safety charges against Mr Whittall, but they were dropped after more than $3 million was paid to the victims’ families.

Earlier hearings in the High Court and Court of Appeal ruled the decision to offer no evidence to the charges was not unlawful.

In October, lawyers for Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse, who both lost family members in the 2010 explosion, asked the Supreme Court to issue a declaration that the dropping of charges arose from an unlawful bargain.

In is defence, the Crown argued the reparation payment was just one of several factors taken into account in withdrawing the charges.

It also had to consider the possible unavailability of witnesses and the fact a trial could take between 16 and 20 weeks.

In today’s decision, the Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal and ruled the decision to offer no evidence was “an unlawful agreement to stifle prosecution”.

RNZ has extensive coverage of this here.

18 Comments

  1. artcroft

     /  November 24, 2017

    I couldn’t believe it either when no charges were laid in regards to Pike River. I assumed it was because govt depts might be found culpable in part for how lax safety was at the mine, and a decision was made high up not to open that can of worms.

    • “Pike River was an enormous cock up by a large number of people. For instance, the kowtowing to the greens to build a 2.3-kilometre tunnel to even get to the diggings when all the advice was to open mine the thing because it was a gaseous mine. Hello. A fatal politically motivated compromise.”

      • lurcher1948

         /  November 24, 2017

        there’s the small matter of the mountain above it,just saying

      • Bullsh*t, Pete. You are sometimes better than this.

      • One of the major issues that caused Pike River was siting of the fans for ventilation and methane removal. Normal practice is to have them at the surface. However, they were not allowed to because of objections from various parties (as well as fans, they would need access and powerlines).. The fan shaft was drilled from the surface, but everyuthing had to be helicoptered in and out. That limitation is why they had the fans underground in less than ideal locations, and why no ventilation at the back of the mine. Air had to go from the entrance down ducts to the back of mine then come forward to the fans, which needed more expensive and less reliable explosion proof motors.
        http://pikeriver.royalcommission.govt.nz/Volume-One—What-Happened-at-Pike-River
        http://pikeriver.co.nz/information
        Most of the coal is within 50m of the surface and the seam thickness about 6m, so well within the economic range of opencasting
        https://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2010/11/19/the-pike-river-coal-mine-accident/
        So Lurcher, I’m just saying you’re wrong and you don’t know what you are talking about (as usual) Robert

    • “Then there was the gutting of the mining safety inspectors by the government which meant no-one was ringing the alarm bells.”

    • “But when I heard yesterday afternoon that the blood money payment was deemed unlawful I actually whooped in the car.”

      “Yesterday was a better day in the Pike River saga than any re-entry will ever be.”

  2. ODT Editorial: Next steps for Pike River

    Ms Ardern talks about closure for the families, but, in reality, New Zealand needs closure. The situation regarding roles of directors and executives in the running of the mine has never been fully disclosed and is now unlikely to be. Inquiries have been held, money has been paid, but Pike River still remains much of a mystery to interested parties.

    Taxpayers have every right to ask if spending $23 million for another investigation of the mine is money well spent, particularly when the Government has so many caveats in place.

    https://www.odt.co.nz/opinion/editorial/next-steps-pike-river

  3. George

     /  November 24, 2017

    So. Just cant wait for the recipients of the ‘blood money’ to repay same.
    Now that this is going to court no doubt they will ……..

    • High Flying Duck

       /  November 24, 2017

      The recipients were not told of the deal, and were paid the money without consent.
      Many were willing to hand it back and would have preferred no money and for charges to be laid.
      I don’t think victim blaming is helpful in this matter.
      Despite the ruling, no criminal charges will be laid as too much time has passed.
      Civil charges are possible but unlikely according to their lawyer.

  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  November 24, 2017

    A simple question which I don’t see answered in media coverage:

    Via what law was this decision deemed unlawful? Or is the Supreme Court making law at will?

    • High Flying Duck

       /  November 24, 2017

      From the interviews yesterday it appears to have been a procedural issue resulting in an unlawful contract being entered into.
      There are (understandably) rules around not being able to pay to avoid prosecution.
      In this case it was seen as highly unlikely any prosecution would be successful.
      Despite this, Peter Whittall’s offer of payment was specifically linked to a the charges not proceeding as opposed to being ex gratia.
      This made it an unlawful contract.
      I could be mistaken, but had it been handled differently there may not have been an issue with it, and even without the payment it was highly unlikely charges would have been brought, or if brought been successful.
      It was specifically not in the nature of a plea bargain and PW denied any wrongdoing and liability.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  November 24, 2017

        Where exactly are these rules? In fact do they even exist? How are citizens expected to obey rules that don’t exist until afterwards?

    • J Bloggs

       /  November 24, 2017

      The Supreme Court aren’t making law at will – the decision can be read here (https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/344548/pike-river-prosecution-withdrawal-unlawful-supreme-court )

      It seems that its a long standing principle in law (demonstrated through a number of cases) that people who are charged with an offence cannot make deals to have prosecutions dropped in exchange for money. Worksafe accepted that it wasn’t able to make a deal on that basis, but had argued at the lower court level that the arrangement with Whittal didn’t actually constitute that sort of deal. The Supreme court has ruled that actually, yes it was that sort of deal, and hence unlawful.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  November 24, 2017

        Seemed to turn on the Solicitor General’s Guidelines for prosecution as well as case law, mostly overseas. Pay lawyers not victims seems to be the primary judicial principle.

  5. Fight4NZ

     /  November 24, 2017

    Is anyone really surprised to see no prosecution when it involves Directors and CEO’s under National? Insufficient grounds to proceed sounds very familiar. Pike River, Todd Barkley, Judith Collins, etc.