A high-profile defence lawyer who was declared bankrupt yesterday owing about $550,000 to Inland Revenue said his business dwindled and client numbers dropped because of changes to the legal aid system.
Jeremy Newland Bioletti, who represented disgraced lawyer Barry Hart and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara during the "Urewera 4" trial, was adjudicated bankrupt yesterday by Justice Graham Lang in the High Court at Auckland. The application to bankrupt the 52-year-old barrister and solicitor was brought by the IRD, to which he owes about $550,000 in tax, interest and penalties.
The court heard that Mr Bioletti's tax arrears dated back to 2006 and that his problems during this period were partly caused by some clients not paying their bills.
Mr Bioletti said outside court that a number of years ago he entered into arrangements with Inland Revenue to pay his tax bill. But when he entered into this deal people accused of complex fraud on legal aid could still pick the lawyer they wanted to represent them, he said.
Mr Bioletti said fraud was one of his specialties and that changes in 2010 meant people on legal aid accused of this sort of crime could no longer nominate the lawyer they wanted to represent them. Instead, lawyers for these cases were selected by legal services.
The lawyer said his business "just gradually drained out" following the changes because he was getting no new work.
During Mr Bioletti's hearing, Justice Lang said legal aid changes went some way in explaining the lawyer's situation.
Mr Bioletti's lawyer, Paul Chambers, said his client had made a "genuine effort" in his proposals to repay the tax.
Mr Chambers asked Justice Lang to exercise his discretion and not adjudicate his client bankrupt but the judge said this was not appropriate.
"The need to maintain commercial morality also indicates an order of adjudication should be made."
Mr Bioletti said the bankruptcy would have a "pretty bad" effect on his family and that he would appeal against the adjudication.