Editorial: Banks situation a right mess

GRANT SHIMMIN
Last updated 05:00 06/06/2014

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OPINION: What an unseemly situation. Including, but not limited to, the fact that John Banks will reportedly continue in as a Member of Parliament for the next eight weeks.

His sentencing, having been found guilty yesterday by Justice Edwin Wylie, in the Auckland High Court, of knowingly transmitting a false electoral return, takes place on August 1, the day after Parliament rises ahead of the September general election.

I realise, as National's Gerry Brownlee pointed out yesterday, Banks does not have a conviction. Any conviction for an offence with a maximum sentence of two years or more would see an MP forced to leave the House.

Banks' lawyer, David Jones QC, asked that a conviction not be entered yesterday, as the defence intended to make an application on the issue of conviction at his sentencing. Naturally, speculation since then has centred around an application for a discharge without conviction.

Leader of the House Brownlee, questioned soon after the guilty verdict, was quick to say that because Banks did not have a conviction he could remain in Parliament, and the Government would carry on with business as usual.

I wonder, though, what the average member of the public thinks about that?

Does it not seem that Mr Banks is still in the house on a technicality - the fact that a conviction has not been entered, pending an application - having been convicted of a serious charge? It does to me.

I'm a little confused, too.

Banks has always maintained he didn't file a false return relating to his 2010 campaign for the Auckland mayoralty, and outside court yesterday, he remained steadfast.

"From day one I have told you I have never filed a false anything, let alone a false return," he told reporters. Which means he maintains his innocence.

I'm no legal expert, but it's certainly my understanding that it's easier to obtain a discharge without conviction if a party found guilty of an offence acknowledges the offence. Banks' comment seems to indicate he has no intention of doing that. So his defence would need to convince Justice Wylie that the potential consequences of a conviction would far outweigh the severity of the offence. That could be a tall order.

Given all that, it seems to me that having Banks spend the next seven or eight weeks in Parliament, with this verdict hanging over him, while legal, would be a terrible look, and not popular with Joe Public. All concerned should think carefully about that.

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- The Timaru Herald

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