High Court hears costs bid against Waimate Council

Law books02Waimate businessman Keith Williams has begun his bid in the High Court at Christchurch to get more costs from the Waimate District Council over a building prosecution that went wrong.

The appeal for increased costs is being heard by Justice Robert Dobson, over an $80,000 order made by District Court Judge Joanna Maze.

Counsel for Mr Williams, Rick Farr, is arguing that the company, Glenkeith Industries, should be paid another $120,000 in costs.

The company says it was prosecuted for going ahead with replacement of a wall on the building in Innes Street that was flexing in the wind in December 2010. It says it had permission from a council official to go ahead with the “urgent” work, but the council does not accept that the work arose from “an exceptional event”. The council official has since denied giving permission.

Another official, the council’s building inspector, Angie Leckey, later would not accept that the work had been carried out under urgency and issued a stop-work notice and said Mr Williams needed a consent and a notice to fix.

Judge Maze was critical of the council’s reliance on Ms Leckey’s view and her lack of objectivity, and said the council had acted with “a high degree of negligence”.

Mr Farr said the wall had been flexing and glass from broken windows had been landing on the footpath. Mr Williams went to see the council about it and asked to see a building inspector. “There was no attempt to hide the work. He attempted to engage the council right up front.”

Mr Farr raised the question of whether the case should be sent back to the District Court for the hearing of evidence and cross-examination about whether Mr Williams had been told to go ahead with the work, and about a later conversation in the Savoy Tearooms in which Ms Leckey allegedly said she was going to have Mr Williams’ building pulled down.

He said Judge Maze had erred in now allowing cross-examination of the council’s witnesses on those matters.

He said these were matters that pointed to “the total dysfunction of counsel authority in this area”.

If the judge had allowed the cross-examination to go ahead, it would have been open to her to accept the account by Mr Williams and his witnesses.

Justice Dobson said he was reluctant to refer the case back “unless I absolutely have to”.

The legal action against Mr Williams and his company over the building work – they faced a total of four charges at one stage – was unsuccessful. The council’s prosecution has far cost an estimated $140,000 in legal fees, on top of the existing costs award, a total of $220,000.

The hearing is expected to take two days.

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