Editorial: 'Tea-tape' costs bid is disturbing

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John Banks and John Key. Photo / Dean Purcell
John Banks and John Key. Photo / Dean Purcell

The attorney-general presumably considers that there is some reasonable chance of obtaining an order of costs against the freelance cameraman who inadvertently recorded the "tea-tape" saga - or he would not be seeking one.

The cameraman, Bradley Ambrose, sought a declaration from the High Court at Auckland as to whether a recording he made of a pre-election conversation between Prime Minister John Key and Act candidate John Banks was legal. The court declined to make such a ruling on the grounds that it could be seen as pre-empting a police investigation.

That investigation continues, yet even before police decide whether charges will be laid, the Crown wants costs of almost $14,000 against the cameraman.

The decision to seek an order for costs may most charitably be described as churlish and vindictive. The High Court's refusal to intervene in the process, which started when the Prime Minister laid a complaint with police, was neither a vindication of the PM's case nor a rejection of Ambrose's.

Key's claim, that a conversation between two politicians who had invited the news media to a crowded and stage-managed public event was private, was wet but it accomplished what he wanted: it kept secret the details of a matter of important public interest while the election campaign was on.

That alone was offensive to democracy but the latest move has a much worse stench about it, of an executive branch happy to use its power to penalise people who, implicitly or explicitly, ask inconvenient questions.

The issues raised by the teapot case go far beyond the attempt of a cameraman to hurry a matter along so that he could keep alive a freelance career that had been interrupted by the PM's response to actions he took, in what appear good faith.

At any time, and particularly in the middle of an election campaign, the Government has a duty to answer legal challenges to its authority and not bill citizens for making them. The request for an order of costs should be withdrawn.

- Herald on Sunday

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