Justice Ministry officials wrote-off $9,587,285.55 owed by 10,306 legal aid debtors in 2014 - an average of $930 each.
Answering parliamentary questions the other day, associate Justice Minister Simon Bridges said that of 11,206 individuals who applied in 2014 for their legal aid debt to be written off, 10,306 were successful, compared to 814 in 2013 and 776 in 2012.
The information indicates that 92 per cent of debt write-off applications in 2014 were successful, compared with 50.2 per cent in 2013 and 66.3 per cent in 2012.
The huge increase in debt write-offs was "influenced" by 47,000 letters sent in late 2013 to folk with outstanding debt, telling them interest would be charged from early 2014 and suggesting they contact the Justice Ministry's debt management group to set up a repayment plan.
According to the ministry's website, legal aid debt interest is charged at 8 per cent.
Bridges says 282 people were paying interest on legal aid debt during February this year.
CaseLoaders, who foot the bill for legal aid largesse, reckon that's a drop in a leaky bucket.
Observers say it is a clear indication the Government has all but given up on recovering millions and millions of taxpayer dollars dished out in legal aid in recent years.
One well-placed crime lawyer, who no longer takes on legal aid cases, reckoned the unrecoverable legal aid debt could well exceed $100 million.
The good news is there has been a 4.7 per cent reduction in the number of people claiming legal aid in the year to the end of February, compared to the previous 12 months.
CaseLoad asked Bridges if he can confirm, or not, if David Cullen Bain's legal aid debt - said to be $3.33 million - has been written off, or if Bain is repaying it, or if he has entered into any arrangement to repay it, or if he has been asked to repay it, or if there has been any communication with Bain or his representatives regarding debt repayment.
Bridges said he could not comment on or discuss decisions about a grant of legal aid.
He said information is released about the total legal aid expenditure on a legally aided person's case because there is a public interest in knowing how taxpayers' money has been expended.
But said information about an individual's legal aid debt, debt repayment arrangements and repayment discussions are considered to be private information and is withheld to protect individual privacy.
Observers say it might be unrealistic to expect Bain to repay what is said to be the biggest legal aid bill in New Zealand history - unless he wins Lotto or has another similar windfall - but a gesture would be nice and it would be good to know.
The same observers also say it might be considered churlish and cruel for Bain's past legal aid grant to be deducted from any taxpayer compensation which the Government may award him in future.
"How can it not be in the public interest to say what, if any, legal aid repayments anyone has made???" said Our Man At The Bar.
CaseLoad's mail box overflows
* On the topic of the media being ordered by the High Court to remove earlier published stories from news websites (
), David of Epsom writes:
"Perhaps not that unusual and it is a matter that has been discussed before, especially in the context of making life difficult for the juror who chooses to Google ... I guess a "media takedown" while the trial is in progress could be seen as ensuring a fair trial ... I don't think what is proposed is to ban publication for all time ... In mitigation all I could say is the system is not perfect." (Abridged)
* Jim of Te Awamutu writes on a variety of topics ranging from allegations of judicial corruption, the sexual peccadilloes of certain judges and prominent lawyers, a name suppression scandal and an astonishing claim that grandly-coiffured Justice Simon Moore wears a wig!!!
Sorry Jim, CaseLoad's defamation war chest isn't that deep.
* Wading into the debate over whether television cameras take liberties in court (CaseLoad March 27), Neville of North Shore writes:
"For some years I have been more than a little uneasy about the filming in court of some of the high-profile cases ... When it comes to filming in court, the extent to which repeats are shown on television seems to be at the discretion of the media and not the courts.
There have been images of an accused being sentenced some time ago shown again and again ... While I in no way want to diminish the seriousness of the crimes for which they were found guilty, there is an inherent unfairness about the whole business.
I wonder, too, if having cameras in court is weighted too much in favour of the media rather than the administration of justice.(Abridged).
P.S. I agree with Jim Farmer (CaseLoad March 27)."
* Angela of Central Auckland writes:
"Jeremy Clarkson should be fired because he's a bully. Far too many bullies in this world. Have a good weekend."
* Mrs S Cunner of Greenlane, writes:
"Nice try, Mrs Cunner, but your language is not suitable for a family publication," said Our Man At The Bar, reaching for an un-chipped flagon.
"Keep my Ma out of it," said The Scunner.
* Martin of Kaukapakapa writes:
(This topic is sub-judice, and you know it.)
Meanwhile, in reply to Curious of Christchurch, who asks, on behalf of a friend:
"If a chap is accused of sexually tampering with underage girls, how can he get his name suppressed?"
Easy peasy, Curious ...
Your name and all identifying particulars including your address and occupation are automatically suppressed if you are accused or convicted of incest or sexual conduct with a dependent family member.
You can also keep your name out of the papers if a child complainant, sometimes known as the victim, is under 18 because naming you could identify the youngster.
Similar suppression applies to victims of sexual assault generally. Other court-ordered suppression can also be imposed.
The intent is to protect the identities of sexually molested youngsters, not those who molest against them, but an offender benefits by having their identity suppressed.
However, Curious - and here's where it gets sticky - while your name is kept out of the papers, there's nothing to stop folk in court at the time spreading the news far and wide by idle chatter and gossip.
And if, for whatever reason, you are a well-known figure or a celebrity person, your name and word of murky allegations are guaranteed to spread like wildfire.
Remember, the courts are full of lawyers and we all know how they thrive on tattle-telling ...
Of course, it also gets tricky if you are tried and acquitted of such sexual crime. The papers still can't name you or publicly clear your name.
All of which raises interesting questions for another day ...
Meanwhile, CaseLoad suggests you tell your friend not to try this sort of behaviour at home, it could have unintended consequences.
A very Christchurch case
One of Christchurch-based Justice Gerald Nation's first High Court judgments involved the descendants of legendary Christchurch-born international tennis champion Tony Wilding and his US-domiciled great-niece, actress and writer, Anna Wilding.
Justice Nation, sworn in the other day, was called on to sort out a formality relating to two properties owned by the AFW and DJ Wilding Family Trust.
One trustee, Daphne Wilding, had died and the other, Anthony Wilding, lacked capacity, as His Honour put it.
Some re-juggling of trustees was required so it was a straightforward job of vesting orders to ensure the titles to the properties owned by the trust were held in the names of the current trustees.
But there appeared to be a niggle over what Anna Wilding wanted.
With Daphne having died, Anthony suffering from Alzheimer's and beneficiaries James Wilding and Anna Wilding not having any children, Justice Nation said James and Anna might be anticipating they would share equally in the capital and income in the trust after Anthony's death.
But with the discretions available to the trustees that could not be certain. With trust capital and income needed to support Anthony there was also uncertainty as to what capital might remain after his death.
Anna was opposed to the appointment of James and David Wilding as trustees and wanted to be appointed herself.
Justice Nation decided the application could proceed without Anna being served and could be dealt with on an ex parte basis, noting that the orders sought would not change any of the beneficiaries' rights.
He didn't think Anna needed to be given notice of the proceedings and made the vesting orders sought.
Tony Wilding, it will be recalled, was a Davis Cup star in the early 1900s who went on to win just about every international tennis title going before dying at 31 while fighting for the British Empire on a World War I battlefield in northern France.
He is the great-uncle of Anna Wilding, who is said to have appeared in Shortland Street before seeking fame and fortune in America.
According to a New York Times story in 2013, Anna's research into her famous ancestor uncovered a "Wilding" tennis racket marketed for many years by manufacturer Wilson.
Litigation was said to be considered against Wilson - who reckoned it wasn't productive to debate facts about events that happened more than 80 years ago - but it is unclear if anything eventuated.
Christchurch lawyer David Wilding, a great nephew of Tony Wilding and who took the recent trust case to court, told CaseLoad the other day he didn't want anything reported.
"We just work away and would rather not say anything about the family," Wilding said.
NB: Anna Wilding has made contact to clarify two points in this item. She says: "At the time of the vesting order I was not domiciled in the USA." She also wishes to make it clear that she did indeed guest star in Shortland St, playing the first ever battered wife on NZ TV.
Shocking Allegations Of Rumpy Pumpy...