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Bevan Hurley

Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

Bain fee topped $200k

Former judge had his partner do work on Bain report

Kate Tolmie Bowden. Photo / Getty Images
Kate Tolmie Bowden. Photo / Getty Images

A former High Court judge received more than $200,000 of taxpayer money to investigate a report into David Bain's compensation claim - including claiming $100 an hour for work by a law student he was in a relationship with.

Figures released under the Official Information Act show Robert Fisher QC's chambers were paid $206,000 to peer review a report by retired Canadian judge Ian Binnie into whether Bain should be compensated for the 13 years he spent in prison. That is more than double the previous figure reported to have been paid to Fisher.

Fisher charged an hourly rate of $450, a barrister in his office was paid $300 an hour, and law clerk Kate Tolmie Bowden, who Fisher is in a relationship with, was charged out at $100 an hour for the 76 hours she worked.

Printing and copying costs for the 66-page report exceeded $20,000.

Legal recruitment experts say an hourly charge of $100 would be "extremely high" for a law clerk such as Tolmie Bowden.

Carla Wellington, a senior consultant with Momentum recruitment consulting, said: "It's not completely outside the bounds of possibility that a law clerk would receive $100 an hour. But there are very few gigs around like that."

She said a law clerk at a small Auckland firm could expect to earn around $40,000 after they have finished their degree. An hourly rate of $100 an hour would equate to $200,000 a year, if it all went to the person and not the company.

When asked about the fee charges for his partner, Fisher referred enquiries to the Ministry of Justice. "I haven't got any authority to make any statements in relation to the matter," he said.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said: "I have no interest in the personal life of Dr Fisher QC - or anyone else who provides professional services to the Ministry of Justice."

Fisher's report, ordered by Collins after she rejected Binnie's recommendation in favour of compensation, found serious flaws in the work of the Canadian.

Michael Reed QC, who represented Bain at his 2009 retrial, said the report was a "ridiculous waste of money" and he had serious concerns over Fisher's judgment in employing a woman who he was in a relationship with. "I'm absolutely appalled at the waste of the country's money in employing someone to report on a report when Binnie did such a good job."

Bain supporter Joe Karam said the cost of Fisher's report was exorbitant when compared to the $400,000 Binnie claimed for a year's work. He believed "it's a head-on crash with no regard for costs whatsoever to get something done as fast as possible just to rubbish Binnie".

Fisher, in his seventies, has been married three times, most recently to Amanda Fistonich. Tolmie Bowden, in her 40s, was married to businessman Tom Bowden, and has worked as a secretary for Parnell Heritage historical society.

Fisher spent 322 hours on the report, at $450 an hour. Barrister Rebecca Edwards billed $30,453 for 87.3 hours at a rate of $300 per hour.

Fisher thanked Tolmie Bowden in the official report.

"I am grateful to Rebecca Edwards BA, LLB (Hons) (Auckland), LLM (Virginia), Barrister, and Kate Tolmie Bowden BCom (Auckland), Law Clerk, for their assistance in preparing this report," he said.

Bain was acquitted of the 1994 murders of his parents, two sisters and a brother after serving 13 years in prison. He has applied for compensation for wrongful imprisonment.

Cabinet has delayed a decision on any payout until after a judicial review, filed by the Bain team after the Fisher report, has been completed.

- Herald on Sunday

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