Appendix 3: Examples of cases on non-pecuniary conflicts of interest

Guidance for members of local authorities about the local authorities (Members' Interests) Act 1968.

Cases where predetermination was found

These cases illustrate some situations where courts found members to have predetermined the matter.

English v Bay of Islands Licensing Committee [1921] NZLR 127 involved an application for renewal of an on-licence. Members of the licensing committee had previously made public statements that the application would be refused unless a new hotel was built. For instance, one member had told the applicant that it did not matter what he said in his application, because "the committee have their minds made up". The Court held that the members' public statements went far beyond reasonable expressions of opinion, and amounted to pledging themselves to refuse the licence. This meant they were biased, and had predetermined the application.

In an English case also involving a liquor licence, R v Halifax Justices, ex parte Robinson (1912) 76 JP 233, a member of the licensing authority was associated with a temperance society. That fact alone would not have constituted bias, but the Court found that the member had shown himself to have a closed mind by announcing that he would have been a "traitor" to his position if he had voted in favour of granting the licence.

In Meadowvale Stud Farm v Stratford County Council [1979] 1 NZLR 342, several councillors who sat on a committee considering an application for an offensive trades licence for a pig farm were also directors or shareholders of a company that occupied land next door. The councillor who was a director had insisted on the farm applying for the licence, and then the company had formally objected to the application and had been represented at the hearing in support of its objection. The Court held that the interested councillors should have been excluded from hearing the application – not only because they had a pecuniary interest in a company potentially affected by the matter, but also because of the active role the company had taken as a submitter.

In Frome United Breweries v Bath Justices [1926] AC 586, several members of a licensing authority had instructed a solicitor to appear before the authority on their behalf and oppose a licence application. They were held to be biased.

East Pier Developments v Napier City Council (High Court, Napier, CP26/98, 14 December 1998, Wild J) related to a lease, where the council was lessor. The lessee wished to use the land for a different purpose, and the lease agreement required it to seek the council's approval. The Court found two members of the council to be biased. One had been closely involved in negotiations and meetings about the matter from an early stage, and the Court held that his overall conduct indicated that from beginning to end he was determined that the council should reject the application. He was never prepared to consider it in an open-minded and impartial manner. Another member, the Court held, was single-minded in his opposition to the application, and so was also not properly open to persuasion.

In Otago University Students Association v University of Otago [2009] 2 NZLR 381 (HC), the High Court ruled that the University had properly excluded student Council representatives from sitting on an Appeals Board hearing code of conduct charges against two students, on the basis that the student representatives would not be able to consider the charges with an open mind. The two possible student representatives had previously been involved in submissions against the code and had served on the Student Association Executive that had publicly denounced the code.

Cases where predetermination was not found

By contrast with the above cases, the courts have often held an expression of a provisional view or broad policy stance about the matter before or during the hearing to be acceptable. The critical factor in these cases is that the views were not expressed in such a categorical way that they implied an unwillingness to listen fairly to new arguments or to give the matter genuine further consideration at the formal hearing. The courts were satisfied that the members, despite their provisional views about the general issues, remained open to persuasion about the particular decision before them.

In Whakatane District Council v Bay of Plenty Regional Council [2009] 3 NZLR 799 (HC), the High Court ruled that prior comments, including letters to the editor, made in support of a proposal to relocate the Regional Council offices did not mean some councillors had "irretrievably committed" to the proposal. Nor did the fact that some councillors were not able to attend all consultation meetings mean they had predetermined the issue – their absences were not significant and the councillors had taken steps to acquaint themselves with the proceedings of the consultation meetings. (The High Court's decision was subsequently overturned on other grounds by the Court of Appeal (Whakatane District Council v Bay of Plenty Regional Council [2010] NZCA 346); the Court did not comment on the High Court's findings on predetermination and councillor absence.)

In Friends of Turitea Reserve Society Inc v Palmerston North City Council [2008] 2 NZLR 661 (HC), the High Court ruled that the fact that the local authority, as land-owner of a reserve, would financially benefit from a decision to change the status of a reserve did not amount to predetermination or bias. Even though the local authority would receive a financial payment from an electricity generator to install turbines on the reserve once the status was changed, the Court considered that the local authority members still approached the decision with an open mind, and noted that the purpose of the payment, when viewed in context, was legitimate.

In Goulden v Wellington City Council [2006] 3 NZLR 244 (HC), the High Court ruled that members of a local authority had not predetermined a code of conduct complaint against a fellow councillor. By themselves, there was nothing objectionable in the framing of a proposed motion of censure in positive terms, the mayor presiding over the meeting even though she had witnessed and been party to previous incidents, and the fact that councillors had discussed their voting intentions with each other before the meeting.

In Wakatu Incorporation v Tasman District Council [2008] NZRMA 187 (HC), the Court emphasised the administrative nature of the assessment about whether there was sufficient information for an application for a resource consent to be publicly notified. Even though the local authority was responsible for processing a resource consent lodged by itself, there was no evidence in the way it processed the application or assessed whether it was ready for public notification that suggested that the matter had been predetermined.

In Riverside Casino v Moxon [2001] 2 NZLR 78 (CA), a member of a casino licensing authority had made a number of comments during the oral hearings that were strongly critical of opponents of the application, but the Court held that they did not display a consistent pattern pointing to a closed mind. The Court also recognised that, by the time of the oral hearings, the member could be expected to have legitimately formed some preliminary views from the substantial written submissions already provided. There was no evidence that he had entered upon the process with a closed mind.

In R v Reading Borough Council ex parte Quietlynn (1986) 85 LGR 387, a councillor had previously written to a newspaper saying that sex shops should be banned. Some time later, he sat on a committee considering an application for a licence as a sex establishment. In that case, the Court accepted that, despite his general views, he had nevertheless acted fairly when he came to consider the application. The Court suggested that this was a field where local representatives could be expected to have views, perhaps even strong views, about whether or not, in general, licences ought to be granted.

In R v Amber Valley District Council, ex parte Jackson [1984] 3 All ER 501, a general declaration of policy by a party caucus within a council was held not to disqualify them from later adjudicating on a planning application, so long as they were able to consider the application on its merits.

In McGovern v Ku-Ring-Gai Council (2008) 251 ALR 58 (NSWCA), it was held that, for multi-member elected decision-making bodies, not all members need to maintain an open mind until all other members were prepared to make a decision. It is legitimate for a member of a collegial body to form a conclusion based on the evidence and then to attempt to persuade other decision-makers to agree with their conclusion.

In R (Island Farm Development Ltd) v Bridgend County Borough Council [2006] EWHC 2189 (Admin); [2007] LLR 230, strongly expressed views and former membership of a pressure group against a development did not prevent members from considering a development application. Even though the development had been a major political issue in the election and the members were elected on the back of opposition to the development, they had approached the issue with an open mind, with a willingness to consider relevant arguments and to change their mind if the material persuaded them to do so.

Relationship with other persons or organisations

The following cases discuss non-pecuniary conflicts of interest that may arise if a person has a close relationship with an affected person or organisation.

In Saxmere Company Ltd v Wool Board Disestablishment Company Ltd [2010] 1 NZLR 35 (SC), the Supreme Court ruled that a judge was not prevented from sitting on a case where the lawyer was his long-standing friend, with whom he shared a number of horse-breeding interests. However, in Saxmere Company Ltd v Wool Board Disestablishment Company Ltd (No 2) [2010] 1 NZLR 76 (SC), the Court later changed its mind after becoming aware of more details of the relationship, and ruled that the fact that the judge was beholden or significantly indirectly indebted to the lawyer amounted to a disqualifying conflict of interest.

In Man O'War Station v Auckland City Council (No 1) [2002] 3 NZLR 577 (PC), a case concerning a judge, the fact that a witness in the case was the son of a former colleague of the judge was not enough to constitute bias.

In R v Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, ex parte Pinochet Ugarte (No 2) [1999] 2 WLR 272 (HL), a judge was held to be biased where he was an active director of a charity closely associated with one of the parties to the litigation.

In a case involving an urban development body, R v Secretary of State for the Environment, ex parte Kirkstall Valley Campaign [1996] 3 All ER 304, a member who held an honorary position in a rugby club was held to be not biased in relation to a planning application affecting the club. However, a member who was involved in preparing the club's development plans, and whose firm acted for the club, was biased.

If a number of members of the authority become too integrally associated with the proponent of an issue, then the whole authority could be found to be biased. This occurred in Anderton v Auckland City Council [1978] 1 NZLR 657, where the level of the council's involvement with a developer was so great that it was held to have determined in advance to allow planning applications for the developer's project. The council had completely surrendered its powers of independent judgement.

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