Hanover trial 'too hard' for jury

RICHARD MEADOWS
Last updated 05:00 26/03/2013

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A Queen's Counsel representing former Shareholders' Association chairman Bruce Sheppard in a defamation suit has suggested inconsistency in Hanover Finance's owners claim that their own investment documents issued to the public are too complex for a jury to understand.

Businessmen Eric Watson and Mark Hotchin are pursuing Sheppard for several million dollars of damages over comments he made in 2009, alleging they were "crooks" and had acted improperly in relation to the debt restructuring of Hanover Finance.

In the High Court at Auckland yesterday, Watson and Hotchin's own legal heavyweight, Julian Miles, QC, argued that the case was too complicated for a jury and should be heard before a judge alone.

But Sheppard's lawyer, Bruce Gray, QC, said the documents involved were designed to be digested by the public, including the prospectuses for the original debt securities.

"Documents were prepared for presentation to the public, issued to the public and relied on by the public for making decisions," he said.

"But now it is said by the issuer those documents are too complicated for the public to understand, and the public can't be trusted with the task of evaluating them . . . we submit there's an inconsistency."

However, Justice Mark Cooper questioned whether such documents assumed at least some degree of sophistication among those reading them.

Miles said the case would involve putting several segments of the failed finance company's history under the microscope.

Gray reiterated that Sheppard was not in court to seek a jury trial.

"But as a matter of principle, Mr Sheppard, as a commentator on matters of investment to the public, says that this . . . should be left to a jury."

The hearing is expected to be concluded today.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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