Pike River families granted leave for Supreme Court appeal of dropping charges against Peter Whittall
The families of those killed in Pike River mine have been granted a Supreme Court hearing to appeal the decision to drop charges against Peter Whittall.
Sonya Rockhouse, who lost her 21-year-old son, Ben, in the 2010 disaster, and Anna Osborne, who lost her husband, Milton, sought a judicial review of the decision by WorkSafe NZ to drop the charges against Whittall, who was Pike River's former boss.
Twenty-nine men died when the West Coast coal mine exploded on November 19, 2010.
Whittall, the mine's chief executive at the time of the disaster, initially faced 12 health and safety charges. All were dropped in December 2013.
Pike River Coal Ltd, the mine owner, pleaded guilty to nine charges and was fined $760,000.
Whittall offered to make a voluntary payment of $3.41 million from his insurer if Worksafe did not offer any evidence against him. The court ordered the reparation.
The families and two survivors received payments.
Osborne said earlier the families had no say in whether to accept or reject the $3.4m, which amounted to $110,000 per family.
She previously called it "blood money".
The Court of Appeal upheld a High Court decision to reject the judicial review in February. It found the decision by Worksafe was "lawfully made".
"As a matter of law, the prosecutor was entitled to consider and give weight to a conditional reparation undertaking as one factor in deciding whether or not to pursue the prosecution further," the Court of Appeal said.
However, a Supreme Court judgment, released on Monday, granted the families leave to challenge the decision to the Supreme Court.
Lawyer Nigel Hampton QC, who represents Osborne and Rockhouse, said they would argue in the Supreme Court the payment to families was an "unlawful bargain", not "just a voluntary payment".
"Historically you should not be able to pay money or have money paid on your behalf to have a prosecution dismissed," he said.
Hampton expected the matter to be heard in the Supreme Court later this year.