Court orders Winston Peters to pay $320 thousand costs

A judge has ordered Winston Peters to pay about $320 thousand in costs after failing to prove public servants and MPs leaked his super overpayment information.

This is only about a third of the $1 million costs the Crown says it has cost to defend Paula Bennett (Minister for State Services at the time), Anne Tolley (Minister of Social Welfare at the time,) Peter Hughes (State Services Commissioner,), Brendan Boyle (chief executive of the MSD) and the Attorney General on behalf of the  Ministry of Social Development.

Peters’ claim against all defendants failed as he was not able to establish that they were responsible for the disclosure of the payment to media, and he conceded that  neither Ms Bennett nor Ms Tolley were directly responsible for the disclosure.

Legal actions can be horrendously expensive, and taking action against five different defendants escalates the costs.

A fundamental of our legal system is that those who fail in civil legal proceedings are required to pay at least some costs.

And this doesn’t account for the costs Peters incurred himself.  That could be substantial, but he was represented by his friend Brian Henry.

Peters says he will appeal the April ruling ruling. If he fails with that he will incur further costs.

The judgment on his case says:

Mr Peters says that the public disclosure of the payment irregularity was a breach of his right to privacy. He says the defendants had a duty to keep the details of the payment irregularity confidential. In disclosing the payment irregularity to others Mr Peters says the defendants breached that duty. He seeks declaratory relief and damages.

Mr Peter’s private information about the payment irregularity should not have been disclosed to the media. The deliberate disclosure of that private information to the media sources caused Mr Peters harm and distress, but ultimately it was mitigated by the actions he took. In the circumstances, if Mr Peters could have identified who disclosed his private information to the media then damages in the region of $75,000 to $100,000 in total might have been appropriate. This was a deliberate breach of his privacy with the intention of publicly embarrassing him and causing him harm.

Summary/result

Mr Peters had a reasonable expectation that the details of the payment irregularity would be kept private and not disclosed to parties who did not have a genuine need to know about it or a proper interest in knowing about it. In particular, he had a reasonable expectation that the details of the payment irregularity would not be disclosed to the media.

The deliberate disclosure of the details of the payment irregularity to the media would be regarded as highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.

Mr Peter’s claim against all defendants fails as he is not able to establish that they were responsible for the disclosure of the payment irregularity to the media. He has conceded that neither Ms Bennett nor Ms Tolley were directly responsible for the disclosure to the media. Further, with the exception of the very general, unguarded comment by Ms Tolley to her sister, the disclosures by the first and third defendants were for a proper purpose or otherwise to persons with a genuine interest in knowing.

The disclosure by the fifth defendant to the SSC and by both the second and fifth defendants to their Ministers were, in the particular circumstances of this case, for a proper purpose and the Ministers had a genuine interest in knowing the details of the payment irregularity.

The plaintiff is unable to rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur in this case to make out a claim against any of the defendants, including the fourth defendant.

The plaintiff’s claims for damages and declarations are dismissed.

Costs were reserved and have since been decided ‘on the papers’.

NZ Herald: Winston Peters to pay $320,000 over failed superannuation leak privacy court case

In a judgment by Justice Geoffrey Venning last Friday, and obtained by the Herald today, costs of nearly $320,000 were awarded against the Deputy Prime Minister.

The new judgment orders Peters to pay Bennett and Tolley $101,897.26 – while a total of $215,921.11 is to be paid to the remaining defendants. All of the money will be paid to the Crown, which funded the defence for all five defendants.

Henry had argued no costs should be awarded because the defendants were funded by the Crown and the proceedings involved a matter of public interest.

The Crown costs for fighting the case, in defence of Bennett, Tolley, Boyle, Hughes and MSD, were estimated to total some $1m.

“The fact that all defendants are funded by the Crown is of itself not a relevant consideration in relation to the issue of costs in this particular case,” Justice Venning said.

Justice Venning added there was no basis for the allegations the public servants were “motivated by the desire to spread salacious gossip, nor for any other allegations of bad faith”.

“While the Court did find there was an error within the Ministry in relation to the MSD form in question, as the Court noted, Mr Peters also had to bear some responsibility for the error in the way the form was completed.”

The judgment also revealed that on September 19 last year the Crown defendants made an offer inviting Peters to discontinue his claim against Hughes and Boyle.

“The failure to accept the offer in the Crown letter on that aspect of the claim supports a partial award of increased costs,” Justice Venning said.

“Mr Peters pursued allegations of bad faith against public officials in the public forum of the Court proceedings. Such allegations should not have been made without a proper basis. He also failed to accept a reasonable offer for resolution of part of the proceedings. There should be a cost consequence.”

But this is not the end of the matter.

Peters, meanwhile, has said he is appealing Justice Venning’s April decision to the Court of Appeal.

He has said the judgment is wrong, while the judge didn’t draw the right inferences from the facts it found.

Peters was persisting with the case not just for himself but for all people who’ve had their privacy breached, he said.

So at this stage he isn’t appealing the costs, he is appealing the original decision.

This is likely to take some time and potentially could get very expensive for Peters.

So far it hasn’t been a good year for Peters, with both the case and costs judgments going against him, the SFO is investigating the New Zealand First Foundation over party handling of donations, and NZ First is doing poorly in polls and may struggle to survive the election.

The April judgment: PETERS v BENNETT & ORS [2020] NZHC 761 [20 April 2020]

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12 Comments

  1. John J Harrison

     /  21st July 2020

    Pete, dead right.
    Peters should have been hit for 3 times the heavily discounted costs.
    He has only stated he will appeal, that has not yet been done.
    He only wants to stop the issue being discussed in the media.
    Next up a TKO from the SFO.
    Here’s hoping.

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  21st July 2020

      [Deleted, you’re not going to make accusations of guilt after the court found no guilt and Peters “has conceded that neither Ms Bennett nor Ms Tolley were directly responsible for thedisclosure to the media.”]

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  21st July 2020

        I never said she did this breach .
        I just provided a direct quote where she said that ‘she said would do it again’ after a previous investigation said she breached privacy for a social welfare beneficiary- which she still denied doing so after the inquiry found otherwise.
        No proof has been provided she has done so again.
        Just as you like to dredge up old comments from Peters, surely the same should apply to Ms Bennett
        The decision wont stand under appeal ( who it was is irrelevant) as the no surprises factor is legally nonsense, not a part which overides any privacy laws or standards for beneficiaries or IRD for that matter

        Reply
        • There was no court case which she lost and it didn’t cost the country $1,000,000. The comparison is meaningless.

          Reply
          • Duker

             /  22nd July 2020

            The Human Rights Proceedings directors judgment was against her.
            It would have taken time and legal costs as she fought the case all the way and still disputed the result.
            beneficiaries werent able to afford a High Court case so had to use the Human Rights Tribunal and its slap on the wrist judgments

            You also miss the main point of her answer.
            “Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is not ruling out revealing private details of beneficiaries in the future.”
            What do you consider in the future to mean? – I consider it means intent
            http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/7482635/Bennett-won-t-rule-out-releasing-beneficiary-details

            Reply
  2. David

     /  21st July 2020

    And if he holds the balance of power I wonder if it will be part of the negotiations.

    Reply
    • I wonder why he’s only paying 1/3, eye-watering as even that is ?

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Paula Bennett et al donate it to charity.

      Reply
  3. Patzcuaro

     /  21st July 2020

    Reply
  4. Brian Johnston

     /  21st July 2020

    If Peters had not taken any action the whole thing would have blown over.
    He has made his own situation worse.
    Surely he knows he has either a weak case or no case.
    Peters is acting out of spite. Crazy stuff.
    I wonder if Peters lawyer has advised him against what he is doing.
    That makes Peters stubborn as well. Madness.
    I read Peters is also claiming the winter electricity subsidy.
    Where does it all end.

    Reply

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