Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Fast-track plan for Banks' trial

Judge says Epsom MP's fraud case should be given priority so it is over before election campaigning begins.

MP John Banks. Photo / Brett Phibbs
MP John Banks. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The High Court has ruled embattled Act Party leader John Banks should stand trial on electoral fraud charges next year but the trial will likely be fast-tracked so it can be completed before campaigning for the general election begins.

Mr Banks appealed to the High Court over District Court Judge Phil Gittos' committal hearing decision that he should face charges of filing a false electoral return.

Read more: Banks to hold media conference at Parliament today

The charges relate to donations Mr Banks solicited and received from controversial internet millionaire Kim Dotcom and casino company SkyCity which were later declared as anonymous in the electoral return he signed for his 2010 Auckland mayoralty campaign.

Mr Banks' lawyers argued that Judge Gittos made several errors of fact in his ruling.

But while he acknowledged those errors in his decision yesterday, the High Court's Justice Paul Heath said they did not have "any material effect" on Judge Gittos' decision to commit Mr Banks for trial.

"The critical part of the judge's decision was based on Mr Banks' receiving the donations, knowing they had come from both Mr Dotcom's interests and SkyCity and with an intention that they not be disclosed in the return."

Justice Heath also agreed with the lawyers for Mr Banks and the Crown that the trial should take place in the High Court rather than the District Court as originally ordered by Judge Gittos.

This was because if Mr Banks were convicted, the Epsom electoral seat, which he still holds, would be declared vacant and also because of the Act Party's confidence and supply agreement with the Government.

He also noted the outcome of the trial could conceivably have an impact on the result of the election.

For the same reasons he said the case should be given priority as it would be undesirable to have it near to polling day. He understood it could be held in the first quarter of next year depending on whether Mr Banks chose trial by jury or before a judge alone.

Justice Heath also pointed out Mr Banks still had the option of challenging his committal for trial under section 347 of the Crimes Act. That would allow lawyers for the Crown and Mr Banks to put new evidence before a judge who would make yet another decision on whether he should go to trial.

"I imagine that's an option Mr Banks will take," said legal expert Graeme Edgeler.

"But given what the judge has said and we've now got a District Court and a High Court judge saying there's enough evidence here, this is a matter for trial ... it's unlikely to work."

Mr Banks was last night laying low. A spokesman said he was considering the judgment and consulting with his lawyers before commenting.

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key said that as the matter was still before the courts, it wouldn't be appropriate for him to comment.

Act President John Boscawen also refused to comment.

Former Act leader Richard Prebble said while the media had tried Mr Banks and found him guilty, the answers Mr Banks had given to questions about the donations "seem totally credible".

Heat on Banks

* Act leader John Banks' bid to avoid going to trial on charges of filing a false electoral return has been thrown out by the High Court.

* He still has the option of challenging the decision under section 347 of the Crimes Act but that is seen as having little chance of success.

* The High Court's Justice Paul Heath has asked for the trial to be fast-tracked to early next year to avoid it affecting the outcome of the general election.

- Additional reporting APNZ

- NZ Herald

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