13 Nov 2017

Peters targets journalistic privilege in court action

6:07 pm on 13 November 2017

When is a journalist not a journalist? That's the question at the heart of Winston Peters' legal bid to find out who leaked information to the media about his superannuation overpayment.

Winston Peters

Newsroom co-editor Tim Murphy (left) is one of the targets of Mr Peters' legal action. Photo: AFP

Today lawyers for the Deputy Prime Minister, several former cabinet ministers and two journalists appeared in the High Court in Auckland.

The issue of a journalist's privilege to protect sources of information is likely to be one of the main issues at play as Mr Peters launches his court action.

During the election campaign, it was revealed the New Zealand First leader was mistakenly over-paid superannuation for seven years. When the error was discovered, Mr Peters paid the money back.

Mr Peters is now seeking disclosure of documents from several former National government ministers, their staff and two journalists.

RNZ understands Mr Peters wants the phone records of a Newsroom and a Newshub journalist over a period of 10 weeks. He also wants their emails, meeting notes, draft stories and internal memos.

Mr Peters' lawyer, Brian Henry, said some journalists may have acted as political agents and described the case as a political set-up.

He said the issue of a journalists' privilege may also be challenged.

Also caught up in the case is former Prime Minister Bill English and three former cabinet members and their staff.

Mr Henry said the leak related to private information that Mr Peters never intended to be made public.

Andy Glenie, the lawyer for one of the respondents - Newsroom co-editor Tim Murphy - said it was not clear from the application for discovery just who was in the gun.

He said it was particularly unclear given Mr Peters had published some of the information himself.

A hearing date for the discovery application has been set in March next year.

In the meantime, Justice Hinton has asked for further documents to be filed with the court, including an affidavit from Mr Peters himself.

Mr Henry told the judge that the court would receive that but Mr Peters had been hard to get hold of during the election period and his current role as deputy PM hasn't made things any easier.

The court action has been criticised by former Commonwealth Press Union chair and former New Zealand Herald editor Gavin Ellis. He has previously told RNZ that Mr Peters' actions were outrageous and could have a chilling effect on democracy.

That sentiment has been echoed by International Federation of Journalists' New Zealand representative Brent Edwards, who described what Mr Peters was doing as "disturbing".

In August, after inquiries by the media, Mr Peters revealed he had been overpaid his superannuation for a number of years because he was on a single person's rate while living with his partner.

Mr Peters paid the money back in July, and said neither he nor the Ministry of Social Development could figure out how the mistake was originally made.

Mr Peters has accused the National Party of being behind the leak.

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