Sceptics target judge's forest

STEVE KILGALLON
Last updated 05:00 11/11/2012

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Climate change sceptics who lost a High Court case against the Government-owned National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) are demanding the trial judge tell them whether he owns a forest.

The New Zealand Climate Science Coalition has formed an unlikely alliance with the losers of an infamous tax-dodging trial to question whether Justice Geoffrey Venning's possible interests in forestry may have affected their cases.

The coalition, which doesn't believe humans cause climate change, took Niwa to court over their studies showing New Zealand's temperature rising between 1909 and 1999. But their claims - that Niwa had breached its duties, was factually wrong and acted unreasonably - were rejected, and Niwa was awarded costs. Justice Venning ruled some of the coalition's evidence was inadmissible, saying witnesses such as its secretary, Terry Dunleavy, had no right to claim expert status.

The coalition, in seeking leave to appeal the decision, also tabled a memorandum asking the judge to disclose his interest in a forest registered under the emissions trading scheme.

"If he [Venning] has a significant interest in an ETS-registered forest, then he will have a very substantial, material stake in the future of New Zealand government policy in regards to climate change issues," said coalition chairman Barry Brill. "We are simply asking the question. And we expect the judge will answer it, then we will address the question of whether to take further action."

Niwa chief executive John Morgan said that was "an interesting approach" but Niwa didn't have a view on it.

Brill said the coalition learned of Justice Venning's possible interests thanks to the long-running Trinity case, described by the IRD as possibly the biggest tax-avoidance case in New Zealand history.

Trinity, which has lost the multibillion-dollar case at several stages, had complained that Justice Venning hadn't initially declared interests in forestry land bordering its own. The judicial complaints commissioner rejected the complaint, and a judicial review of that decision will be heard in the High Court next month.

Companies Office records show Venning, a High Court judge for 10 years, was a director of Tahakopa Forest Trust Ltd but resigned in 2008.

Brill said he understood the Trinity group was alleging Justice Venning owned 50 hectares of forest.

A Justice Ministry spokesman said Justice Venning would not comment on the coalition's letter because the case remained before the courts.

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- Sunday Star Times

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