Jury ponders marriage in fraud trial

MARTY SHARPE
Last updated 11:12 13/12/2013

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A jury deciding a case of alleged benefit fraud by a same-sex couple has retired to consider the nature of marriage.

The jury of 10 women and two men retired from Napier District Court at 10.25am after hearing Judge Geoff Rea sum up the week-long case against former Work and Income case manager Matthew Goodall and Daniel Morgan, whom the Crown says remained his partner despite claiming to be single in order to receive benefits.

Goodall, 41, is charged with dishonestly using a document with intent to obtain pecuniary advantage. Morgan, 37, faces eight charges of the same nature between 2007 and 2010.

The Crown says the men claimed to be single so Morgan could continue receiving benefits, despite a law change from April 1, 2007, that required beneficiaries in same-sex relationships to have their partners' incomes assessed in the same way as those of heterosexual couples.

The men claimed to have separated in late 2006 but to have remained living together and sharing expenses for the benefit of two children they cared for. The Crown points to the numerous occasions after April 2007 during which Morgan stated on forms that the pair were still together. It claims Goodall lied when he wrote a letter stating the pair had separated, as a means of ensuring Morgan continued receiving benefits.

Judge Rea told jurors they had to put prejudice and sympathy aside. He outlined the definition of "partner".

In order to consider the two in a relationship the jury needed to conclude they had a financial commitment to each other that went beyond sharing expenses and had to amount to at least "a willingness to support the other person if that need existed", the judge said.

On top of that there had to be "a continuing emotional commitment between the couple".

"Of these things the sharing of the same roof and a sexual relationship are likely to be the most significant indicators.

"However, all the circumstances need to be considered in each case and there can be occasions where the sharing of a household and sexual activity between the couple are not necessary for the relationship to be established," Judge Rea said.

He said the Crown had to also prove that Morgan knew he was being dishonest when he claimed the benefits and that Goodall's sole purpose in writing and signing the letter was so Morgan would get something he was not entitled to.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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