25 May 2015

High Court hears of Pike River 'chequebook justice'

7:24 pm on 25 May 2015

The High Court has been told the decision not to proceed with charges against the former head of Pike River Coal, Peter Whittall, struck at the heart and integrity of New Zealand's criminal justice system.

Two families of men who died in the Pike River mine explosion in November 2010 have asked the High Court in Wellington to review the decision made by Worksafe New Zealand not to offer any evidence on the 12 charges faced by Mr Whittall.

Peter Whittall

Peter Whittall Photo: AFP / FILE

Mr Whittall was charged following the mine explosion, in which 29 men died, but the prosecution did not proceed after an insurance payment of more than $3 million was made to the families.

The families' lawyer, Nigel Hampton QC said that was a misuse of the criminal justice process and chequebook justice overcame the public interest.

He said the decision about the charges was made behind closed doors which was totally contrary to the victims' rights and open justice.

Worksafe's lawyer Joanna Holden told the High Court in Wellington all the officials involved in the case were aware of the tragedy at Pike River and its emotional and financial impact was at the forefront of their minds.

But she said courts could only intervene in exceptional cases and the decision not to prosecute was reached following a lawful and reasonable process.

The hearing is set down for two days.

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