Top lawyer to fight drink drive charge

PAUL EASTON AND BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 05:00 03/11/2012
Colin Carruthers, QC
CRAIG SIMCOX/Fairfax NZ
FIGHTING THE CHARGE: Colin Carruthers, QC, allegedly ‘‘showed signs of alcohol intake’’ when stopped by police on State Highway 2 near Upper Hutt on May 25. He has pleaded not guilty.

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One of the country's top lawyers has been charged with drink-driving after police allege a blood test revealed he was more than twice the legal limit.

Colin Robert Carruthers, a Queen's Counsel, was stopped by police and allegedly "showed signs of alcohol intake" on State Highway 2 near Upper Hutt on May 25, police prosecutor Sergeant Neill Ford said.

Police allege a blood test later revealed the 67-year-old's excess blood alcohol reading was 190 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit is 80mg.

Drivers caught with a reading in excess of 130mg automatically lose their licence for 28 days.

Carruthers has pleaded not guilty and the case was awaiting a date for a defended hearing, Mr Ford said.

It is understood the courts are having trouble finding a judge to hear the case who doesn't know Carruthers.

The high-profile lawyer did not return phone calls yesterday and a woman at his Wellington office said he was "not contactable . . . on a personal matter".

His lawyer, Catherine Milnes-King, and his wife, former ACT MP Deborah Coddington, declined to comment.

Carruthers and Ms Coddington live on a 11.3-hectare lifestyle block and vineyard near Martinborough. They produce high-end wine under the Redbank Estate label.

Carruthers is a respected lawyer, who has acted in several high profile commercial cases. He is a past president of the New Zealand Bar Association.

He became a Queen's Counsel in 1990. He was appointed counsel assisting Sir Ronald Davison in the 1990s Winebox Inquiry.

In 2011, he represented the Crown in the case against the directors of Nathans Finance.

He has also represented the Serious Fraud Office in a fraud case against South Canterbury Finance.

Queen's Counsel are appointed by the governor-general on the recommendation of the attorney-general and with the agreement of the Chief Justice. In 2006, the Labour government renamed the role Senior Counsel and allowed partners of law firms to be eligible.

This Government is in the process of changing the title back to Queen's Counsel and again restricting it to lawyers practising independently as barristers.

There are 102 QCs and Senior Counsel. None have been appointed since the proposed law change was announced.

Gaining a conviction does not mean a lawyer has to cease to practise. When their practising certificate is renewed they are asked about any convictions. It may or may not be looked at by the Law Society. If it is, a lawyer could be suspended or struck off or fined. There is no separate process for Queen's Counsel.

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The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act says a charge may be brought if they have been convicted of a charge that is imprisonable and the conviction reflects on his or her fitness to practise, or tends to bring his or her profession into disrepute.

Duncan Webb, a lawyer and a specialist in professional ethics, said if a QC was convicted of drink-driving it was unlikely they would face disciplinary action by the New Zealand Law Society.

"The question from an ethics point of view is how does that reflect on [their] . . . fitness to practise as a lawyer? Because it's not like it's some conduct that he did in the middle of practice of law," Dr Webb said.

If it was a repeat drink-driving offence then it might show "a disregard for the law" which would be looked at more seriously, he said.

"The fact of the matter is, to be brutally honest, there are a goodly number of lawyers out there who have been in that position [as a first-time offender]."

- The Dominion Post

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