The Court of Appeal has held Mobil Oil NZ Ltd liable for the cost of remedying hydrocarbon contamination of land that it has occupied since 1925. The issue before the court was whether an obligation in a 1985 lease that required Mobil to deliver up the land "clean and tidy" extended to the remediation of subsurface contamination, including contamination that had occurred long before the lease period.
Two recent High Court decisions delivered conflicting results on the ability of the Financial Markets Authority to bring about a company's forced de-registration from the Financial Service Providers Register. Both cases involved appeals against proposed de-registration by a financial services company that was registered in New Zealand, but had its substantive operations offshore and no New Zealand customers.
The High Court recently ruled that holders of official information are not justified in taking a blanket approach when responding to requests for official information. The judgment confirms the primacy of open government and access to information under freedom of information legislation, but also the limits to the courts' ability to review the substantive merits of a decision to withhold information in a particular case.
In 2010 and 2011 the Canterbury region suffered several major earthquakes, resulting in severe destruction. The insurance industry has spent the following years dealing with unprecedented property claims. The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal recently decided a number of important cases regarding earthquake insurance which will shape New Zealand insurance law for decades to come.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's rules on government procurement decision making recently featured in a successful judicial review application to set aside a Ministry of Health contract award following a request for proposals process. The court confirmed that cabinet-imposed procurement rules will be strictly applied and that non-complying decisions may be set aside.
A recent Supreme Court decision has clarified the meaning of Article 8(1) of the Arbitration Act and resolved how agreements to arbitrate disputes under a contract should be construed where the existence of a genuine dispute is unclear. This decision set a precedent that when a party to an arbitration agreement attempts to bring court proceedings, the court must stay the matter and refer it to arbitration.
Two recent cases from the senior appellate courts have confirmed and restated the test for liability of lawyers who negligently advise on property transactions. The courts have affirmed that a stern test should be maintained in professional negligence claims by clients. Disgruntled clients will have to show that, had they been properly advised, they would have changed their course of action.
When a marriage or relationship breaks down and there are significant assets in trust structures, bitter disputes and attempts to access those trusts can result. The issues often focus on whether the trust was established as a sham. However, a recent Court of Appeal case has created media and professional consternation with its finding that assets placed in trusts might be scrutinised in different ways too.
Awards of interest on top of a proved sum of damages or debt owed remain a highly discretionary item for the court in each case, although that may be set to change. A 2014 Supreme Court decision has somewhat relaxed the restrictions on awards of interest, while Parliament is expected to extend and reinforce this approach via statutory changes in the Judicature Modernisation Bill.
The leader of the Conservative Party successfully obtained an urgent interim injunction preventing MediaWorks from screening a Saturday morning political debate in which he did not participate. This is the latest occasion in New Zealand where politicians have sought to use judicial review, combined with urgent injunctive court orders, to force media organisations to include them in election coverage.
The Court of Appeal has overturned an earlier decision not to extend the registration of the US restraining orders regarding Kim Dotcom, his associate Bram Van de Kolk and their company Megastuff Limited. Further, the court rejected an application by Dotcom's estranged wife to have her assets separated or excluded from the restraining order.
For the first time, the New Zealand courts have directly considered the interrelationship between cross-border insolvency and admiralty claims. The case arose from a foreign administration order that was recognised by the New Zealand High Court as a qualifying foreign proceeding and therefore operated as an automatic stay of proceedings in New Zealand. However, the court allowed the claimants to continue their admiralty claims.
The last participant in an international freight forwarders' price-fixing cartel has finally been dealt with by the High Court in a case that confirms New Zealand's approach towards negotiated settlements and agreed penalties in these quasi-criminal prosecutions brought by a regulator. New Zealand courts remain quite content to endorse this type of 'plea bargaining' approach, despite recent Australian trends questioning it.
The High Court recently considered its ability to annul or modify charterparties that are entered into under duress, within its admiralty jurisdiction where the terms of the charterparty are inequitable and construed under the International Convention on Salvage 1989. The dispute underlying the decision arose from the October 2011 grounding of the MV Rena off the New Zealand coast.
The Supreme Court has imposed disclosure requirements on plaintiffs whose legal costs of pursuing the claim are covered by a third-party litigation funder. The disclosure required by the Supreme Court is likely to lead to more defendants seeking security for costs when they are notified that a funder is involved or applying for a stay on the basis of abuse of process.
New Zealand, like many other jurisdictions, has been grappling with the new legal issues arising from the upsurge in communication online. An area that has recently received attention is the extent to which a person or entity that hosts or republishes content created by third parties online can be held liable for defamatory content generated by users. Two recent High Court decisions have clarified the approach in New Zealand.
Following two recent decisions which held that the imposition of a smoking ban in prisons, first by amending prison rules and subsequently by amending regulations, was unlawful, the High Court has upheld the lawfulness of a policy banning smoking on all properties owned or controlled by a district health board. The contrasting outcomes provide a useful illustration of the approach taken in judicial review in New Zealand.
The introduction of a smoking ban in prisons has resulted in the airing of some interesting legal and constitutional issues. The lawfulness of the manner in which the ban was introduced was successfully challenged by a prisoner, and the government's legislative response to the High Court's decision has since provoked both a further successful legal challenge and criticism from a constitutional perspective.
The New Zealand Law Commission has released a report on its review of the legislation establishing New Zealand's court system. The commission was charged with reviewing the legislation with a view to modernising and consolidating it into a single statute. The report contained a number of recommendations, many of which will be adopted in new court legislation to be introduced later in 2013.
During the 2011 general election the National Party campaigned on an economic policy that would bring about the partial sale of five state enterprises. Following its election, the government began the process of restructuring the crown's ownership of these state enterprises. A recent Supreme Court decision has cleared the way for this crown sale of shares.