Brownlee takes swipe at judge

23:06, Nov 17 2013

A group of disgruntled red-zoners have been left "speechless" after Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee took a swipe at the High Court judge who ruled in their favour.

Brownlee was responding to a question in Parliament about the 511 households awaiting the outcome of the Port Hills zoning review.

Brownlee said Justice Graham Panckhurst's recent decision to rule in favour of a 68-strong group known as the Quake Outcasts was under appeal, which had delayed any announcement on the issue to avoid being in contempt of court.

"There is not a lot that can be done at the present time," he told Parliament on November 7. "I'm deeply distressed by this . . . and I do find it extraordinary that someone can sit on the bench of a court in this country and inflict such injustice on so many people."

The comment comes four months after the Quake Outcasts challenged the Government in court over its decision in September last year to offer to buy uninsured land at 50 per cent of rateable value. Many of those affected had vacant sections, which could not be insured.

Quake Outcasts spokesman Ernest Tsao said "I'm speechless" about the comments.


Brownlee "did something wrong and turns around and blames the judiciary", Tsao said.

The MP's comment drew criticism in the House from rival politicians.

Labour's deputy leader David Parker questioned whether Brownlee's response unfairly criticised Panckhurst's decision, while Grant Robertson believed the MP for Ilam had come close to breaking the rules of the House.

Speaker David Carter agreed with Robertson but decided not to rule the comments out of order.

"The minister has to accept responsibility for the answer he gave."

Barrister Graeme Edgeler said Brownlee was not out of line for making the comment, as he had "absolute freedom of speech in Parliament".

However, there was a "principle of comity" that ministers should abide by, "but sometimes don't".

"The general rule is that ministers should avoid commenting on judges. "If he's just letting off steam once, not a whole lot will happen."

If Brownlee made a similar comment again, he could be reprimanded - but it was unlikely.

"Ministers certainly do get annoyed at judges on various occasions and it's expected that that Minister won't say that very often but it does happen sometimes."

The Press