6 Jun 2014

Parliamentary moves on Banks unclear

5:25 pm on 6 June 2014

The Leader of the House is still to confirm what steps will be taken if a conviction is entered against John Banks of filing false electoral returns.

John Banks outside the Auckland High Court.

John Banks speaks to media outside court on Thursday. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

The ACT MP was on Thursday found guilty of knowingly recording political donations from Kim Dotcom as anonymous in 2010.

Any conviction will be entered after the parliamentary term ends on 31 July, meaning the MP for Epsom can see out the term.

Banks' lawyers say they intend to apply for a discharge without conviction. However Kensington Swan specialist in electoral law Hayden Wilson says the seriousness of the offence may mean this is unavailable to Banks.

If a conviction was entered, Banks will lose his seat. That will trigger a process where the Speaker of the House will have to advertise the vacancy and there would then be a vote in Parliament on whether a by-election should take place.

Because the House would have already risen, MPs would have to be recalled especially for it. Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee has yet to respond to questions what process the Government would follow if Banks is convicted.

Meanwhile, a constitutional law specialist says it will be up to Prime Minister John Key to decide if Banks should retain his honours.

Banks was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2011 for his services to local government, and was also awarded a Queen's Service Order.

Auckland University law lecturer Bruce Harris says Mr Key could use his discretion to revoke those honours - particularly because there is a link between the conviction and the reason for one of the honours.

Resignation call

Opposition parties want the disgraced MP to gather what remains of his dignity and resign from Parliament.

The Labour Party said Banks remains an MP on a technicality and he should do the honourable thing and resign.

Leader David Cunliffe told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Friday Banks had no moral basis to remain in Parliament. He said he would not talk about Banks' legal options, but he should now resign.

Mr Cunliffe said Banks was propping up a Government with a slim majority, without any right to be there.

The Green Party said the guilty verdict made it clear he was no longer fit to be an MP. Banks has not commented on what he intends to do.

ACT leader Jamie Whyte said he had not spoken to John Banks since his guilty verdict and did not know how long he intended to remain in Parliament.

Mr Whyte told Morning Report on Friday that he was not aware that John Banks planned to apply for a discharge without conviction and did not see a need for him to step down from Parliament immediately.

The case against Banks

The Crown said the MP for Epsom knowingly filed donations from SkyCity and internet businessman Kim Dotcom as anonymous, even though he knew where the money came from. Banks' lawyer plans to ask for a discharge without conviction.

Justice Wylie heard nearly two weeks of evidence, as well as submissions from Crown prosecutor Paul Dacre, QC, and defence lawyer David Jones, QC. At a packed High Court in Auckland on Thursday, the judge delivered an almost 20-minute decision which began with him finding Banks guilty.

"I was not persuaded beyond reasonable doubt that you knew that the return of electoral expenses was false in relation to the $15,000 donation made by SkyCity Management Limited, but I was sure that you knew that the return was false in relation to the two donations each of $25,000 made by Megastuff Limited on behalf of Mr Dotcom."

Justice Wylie also rejected accusations by the defence that Kim Dotcom and others were behind a campaign trying to unseat John Banks and bring down Prime Minister John Key. He said he considered that Mr Dotcom, his estranged wife Mona Dotcom, and their former bodyguard Wayne Tempero as reliable witnesses.

As he stood to receive the verdict, Banks blinked and jutted his chin into the air when the word "guilty" was read out.

The MP faces a maximum sentence of two years' jail or a fine of $10,000.