Parata's blunt axe has costly handle

IMPORTANT LESSON: Hekia Parata visits Phillipstown School during the consultation process last year.
IMPORTANT LESSON: Hekia Parata visits Phillipstown School during the consultation process last year.

Almost $100,000 of taxpayers' money has so far been spent on Education Minister Hekia Parata unsuccessfully defending in court her decision to close and merge Phillipstown School with another.

Information received by The Press through the Official Information Act shows $96,729.68 has so far been spent on Crown Law fees and other court costs. But the figure is likely to rise, since the final costs will not be known "for some time", the Ministry of Education says.

The decile 1 school filed for a judicial review of Parata's decision to close and merge it with Woolston in 2014, and it was heard at the end of September in the High Court in Christchurch.

Justice John Fogarty ruled last month that the decision was unlawful and invalid because the consultation process failed to meet the requirements of the Education Act.

Up until October 17, as well as the cost of all services provided by Crown Law, and payments made by Crown Law on behalf of the minister - including Queen's Counsel and lawyer fees, court filing fees, airfares and courier charges - another $915.19 was spent on flying ministry representatives to the court case.

The costs were paid for from the ministry's "Regional Operations' departmental funding budget".

The school was also entitled to have costs covered by the ministry, as part of the ruling.

Phillipstown School, which was represented by prominent public lawyer Mai Chen, held events before the court hearing to raise more than $50,000 for its legal fees.

But the final figure had not yet been confirmed, ministry spokeswoman Katrina Casey said.

"In regards to the costs awarded the plaintiff, we understand that the plaintiff has sought a further ruling from Judge Fogarty on the issue of costs."

Phillipstown School principal Tony Simpson said the school was disappointed to have to take legal action in the first place. He would not comment on court costs.

It was the second time Parata's decision to close a school had been overturned by the High Court.

Her decision to close Nelson's Salisbury School, subject to a judicial review last December, was also deemed unlawful.

Taxpayers fronted nearly $80,000 on the Salisbury court costs, plus the more than $190,000 it cost in Parata's botched consultation process.

The Press