Cabinet minister Stuart Nash is set to come under further pressure amid revelations the Solicitor-General considered prosecuting him for contempt over public comments he made after the arrest of Eli Epiha in the case of the killing of Police Constable Matthew Hunt.
Newstalk ZB today revealed the earlier occasion, which led to Nash being formally reprimanded for comments he had made on the Mike Hosking Breakfast show in June 2020.
Nash resigned as Police Minister yesterday for comments he made to Hosking, in which he said he had once called up Police Commissioner Andrew Coster to discuss a sentence of home detention handed out to a Southland farmer for illegal firearms. Nash told Hosking he had said to Coster that surely police would appeal the sentence.
The second, earlier instance revealed today was within days of the fatal shooting of Hunt - and Nash said the police had arrested the man responsible and he hoped he’d get a long prison sentence to reflect on what he’d done.
The case against Epiha hadn’t been completed and the Solicitor-General took a dim view of Nash’s outburst, saying while they’d decided not to prosecute him, they referred the matter to the Attorney-General to rebuke him, which he did.
The Crown Law office confirmed to Newstalk ZB that the Solicitor-General had considered prosecuting Nash for it - but had instead recommended to Attorney-General David Parker to reprimand Nash for “unacceptable” comments.
Parker had formally reprimanded Nash for it.
The new revelation comes as Act and National Party politicians continue to call for Nash to be stripped of all his ministerial roles rather than just the police role.
National’s deputy leader Nicola Willis said the story had gone “from bad to worse.”
“Why hasn’t the Prime Minister sacked him? I don’t understand why Prime Minister Hipkins hasn’t stripped him of all his portfolios. If you do a black and white breach of the Cabinet Manual - and it’s a serious breach - you’re gone.”
In a statement in response to today’s developments, Hipkins said the 2020 case was “in the past” - but said Nash knew he was “on notice over any future serious errors of judgement.”
“Minister Nash has already lost his prized Police portfolio and knows he’s on notice over any future serious errors of judgment.”
On the 2020 case, he said Attorney-General David Parker was asked by the Solicitor-General to speak to Nash to convey that his comments were unacceptable.
“The Attorney-General did that and the Solicitor-General considered the matter resolved to her satisfaction,” Hipkins said.
Act leader David Seymour said he could not see how Hipkins could still have confidence in Nash.
“It was bad enough that he wouldn’t sack him yesterday, now that it is known Nash is a repeat offender it is unforgivable.
“The Cabinet Manual is the authoritative guide to what they can and can’t do as a Minister of the Crown. If ministers can’t be bothered reading it, or even worse choose to ignore it, then they’re not competent enough or don’t have the integrity to be a minister.”
In an email about the 2020 incident, a spokesperson for Crown Law said deciding not to prosecute did not mean the solicitor general condoned Nash’s comment.
“She recommended to the Attorney-General that he speak to Minister Nash directly to convey that his comments were unacceptable and remind him not to make public comment on cases before the courts.
“The Attorney-General did so. With this formal reprimand, the Solicitor-General considered the matter resolved to her satisfaction.”
The email said that their office frequently received contempt complaints, most often against the media. “We frequently resolve them by way of letter to the person or entity that made the offending publication, to remind them of the law of contempt and their obligations not to breach it. In the case of a minister, we concluded that the Attorney-General was the appropriate person to convey that message.”
It is a breach of the Cabinet Manual to comment on proceedings that are before the court, or on the courts’ decisions in specific cases.