Bid to remove South Cant Finance judge

EMMA BAILEY
Last updated 14:57 17/03/2014
scf trial
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/ Fairfax NZ

TRIAL STARTS: Arraigned in the dock at the start of the $1.58b South Canterbury Finance fraud case, from left, are Edward Sullivan, Robert White and Lachie McLeod.

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A bid to have the judge removed from New Zealand's largest alleged fraud trial is playing out at the High Court in Timaru.

Former South Canterbury Finance (SCF) chief executive Lachie McLeod and former directors Edward Sullivan and Robert White have pleaded not guilty to 18 individual and combined fraud charges laid by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in December 2011.

SCF collapsed in August 2010, and $1.58 billion of taxpayers' money has been paid to investors.

The lawyers acting for the three defendants last week called for Justice Paul Heath to remove himself from the case.

They said comments by SFO director Julie Read at a conference, where she said "we are very fortunate to have Justice Heath as our trial judge", showed a perception of partiality and required the trial to be aborted.

Justice Heath was chairing the conference.

The trial began last Wednesday with the Crown finishing its opening on Thursday. Court resumed at 2.15pm today.

Bruce Squire QC, acting for White, said the application was made on the perception of bias, not actual bias.

"The test is would a fair-minded objective lay observer consider that there is a real possibility that a fair trial in this instance would not take place," he said.

"The perception of the public is part of the test.

"The question is not what your honour thinks but how it would be judged by an objective observer."

Affidavits were filed by Wellington lawyer Scott Barker, who was at the conference when Ms Read made the comments, and a senior Queen's counsel who would provide expert opinion.

The hearing continues

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- Fairfax Media

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