Well-known liquidator and columnist Damien Grant has won a court battle to have his insolvency licence reconsidered after it was rejected because of his criminal history.
The Restructuring, Insolvency and Turnaround Association New Zealand (Ritanz) deemed Grant to not be a "fit and proper person" when it declined his application earlier this year.
He sought a judicial review of the decision in the High Court at Auckland last month.
Today, Justice Matthew Muir delivered his judgment and quashed Ritanz's decision, while also directing the organisation to reconsider the application.
Justice Muir had said at the hearing it was not for him to determine if Grant's character met the requirements of Ritanz but rather if its panel had conducted the process lawfully.
But the judge also said in his decision today: "Perfection is not required."
In a statement following the result, Grant said it has been an "incredibly difficult experience, both emotionally and financially, on myself, my family, and my staff".
"At the heart of our criminal justice system is the belief that those who have failed are given the opportunity to redeem themselves, both in the eyes of their family, friends and the wider society. I have been given this opportunity and am enormously grateful."
Grant served prison time for fraud and credit card offences, the last of which he was convicted of in 1994.
He has 34 convictions for dishonesty offences, the first involved offending for which he was sentenced in December 1987 and February 1988, at which point he was 22 years old.
A second tranche of offending occurred about six years later and has been described as "share theft frauds". It involved more serious offending with the total value of the frauds in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and resulted in convictions for theft, forgery, personification by fraud, altering a document, conspiracy and other related charges.
Grant's Ritanz application came about due to the Insolvency Practitioners' Regulation Act coming into effect this year which require insolvency practitioners to hold a licence with an accredited organisation.
The regulation means Grant, who is not a chartered accountant but has operated Waterstone Insolvency since 2006, will not be able to continue as a insolvency practitioner without a licence.
"I accept that given one of the purposes of the Act was to promote integrity among insolvency practitioners, it would be wrong to suggest that any lesser standard of honesty and trustworthiness was appropriate to insolvency practitioners than to lawyers," Justice Muir said in his judgment, released this afternoon.
"It can be no more appropriate to admit to practice a potential liquidator formerly convicted of complex fraud than it can be a lawyer with similar convictions. However, the case law in respect of lawyers suggests there is no immutable bar in that respect and likewise there should be no immutable bar for insolvency practitioners."
Justice Muir said the danger in the panel's approach to Grant's application was that in the case of serious dishonesty offending, a balancing approach may leave the scales permanently weighted against admission.
"That is not to say that the nature of the offending is not important. Conspicuously it is. And, as the Supreme Court acknowledged, dishonesty offending, will always be 'problematic' in the case of admission to a profession or vocation where honesty is essential," he added.
"But what is 'generally' the position or what might be regarded as a 'problematic' case does not mean to say that the door is permanently closed."
Justice Muir said on fair reading of the evidence, supported by Grant's long history of having "owned" his criminal past, it would "be difficult to suggest that he had not fully and completely accepted the wrongness of his acts".
"Mr Grant would not be the first adult not to fully understand why, in comparative youth, he or she had acted as they did."
While in prison Grant also furthered his studies and completed a bachelor of commerce after his release.
The judge also said he did not consider the Ritanz panel to be correct by adopting its retrospective lens, in criticising Grant for his apparent "[un]interest in acknowledging the offending in public until the media threatened to expose him".
"A person can be genuinely remorseful for their actions without expressing it in public and it was, in my view, an error to discount or minimise his remorse for that reason," Justice Muir said.
"I consider the panel adopted an approach which focused overly on the historic position and gave too little emphasis on Mr Grant's reformative efforts over 27 years."
Although he quashed the panel's decision, Justice Muir said he was not persuaded to substitute his own decision and make an order admitting Grant to membership of Ritanz.
"This could never be described as a clear case. I have already indicated that I consider honesty as much a prerequisite for practice as an insolvency practitioner as for practice as a lawyer," he said.
"The hurdle Mr Grant was required to cross was always therefore high, but not necessarily insuperable."
Several of Grant's supporters were in the courtroom for the day-long hearing, while other high-profile people - such as former politician Dr Don Brash - had written affidavits in support of Grant's bid.
After today's decision Grant said he was "looking forward to continuing to make a positive contribution to both the insolvency industry and those who engage with myself and my practice".