Shock Over Legal Aid Payout to “Gay” Activist

Published: Fri 16 Sep 2005 12:52 AM
P.O. Box 13-683 Johnsonville
15 September 2005
Shock Over Legal Aid Payout to “Gay” Activist
The Society is shocked to discover today that the Legal Services Board (LSB) paid out over $13,000 in civil legal aid to lawyers acting for a “gay” lobbyist Calum Bennachie (formerly Calum Sawyers), who, after succeeding in getting two “talking head” Christian videos banned by the Film and Literature Board of Review in late 1997; used taxpayers money to oppose appeals by the distributor (Living Word Distributors Ltd) to the High Court and Court of Appeal against the Board’s banning order. In his two separate and successful applications for legal aid (in 1999 and 2000) on behalf of the respondent, a “gay-lesbian lobby group” called Human Rights Action Group, Bennachie listed openly “gay” Wellington lawyer, Charles Chauvel, who is currently standing as Labour Party candidate in the Ohariu-Belmont electorate, as the solicitor representing him. The $13,000 of taxpayers’ money was paid via direct credit to Minter Ellison Rudd, Watts, the world’s 13th largest law firm. Chauvel was elected a partner in the Wellington Office of the Group, effective from 1 January 2000.
Mr John Oliver, a senior lawyer in the Crown Law Office in Wellington, whose job it is to defend all the Board of Review’s classification decisions in a non-adversarial role (amicus curiae) in all cases that come before the Courts, failed to take part in any of the Living Word legal proceedings (1999-2000). However, he has regularly defended Board decisions before the Courts that have allowed films containing lengthy, explicit and gratuitous depictions of gang rape, sodomy, necrophilia, incest, graphic violence and degrading sexual content, to be shown to adults in public cinemas (e.g. Baise Moi, Visitor Q).
The Board’s decision (18/12/97) that classified the American produced Living Word videos as “objectionable”, as John Oliver recently admitted earlier this year before the Court of Appeal in another censorship case, was written by the openly “gay” Chief Censor, Bill Hastings, who at that time was Deputy President of the Board of Review. (The videos are titled "Gay Rights/Special Rights: Inside the Homosexual Agenda" [1993] and "AIDS: What You Haven't been Told" [1989], were both produced by Jeremiah Films [see refs. below]).
The Society questions whether the Legal Services Board (LSB) complied with the law in granting legal aid to a representative of this “gay” lobby group (HRAG). According to the Legal Services Act 1991 that applied at the time, legal aid was not available to any group, except for limited cases such as “class actions” (e.g. Waitangi Tribunal hearings over iwi land grievances). Bennachie’s case was not a class action. He claimed in his applications for legal aid that he was “the representative of the respondent” (HRAG) – a group whose members were never identified in Court or Board of Review proceedings or subject to any financial scrutiny by LSB. The Society contends that LSB acted ultra vires (outside its jurisdiction) in granting civil legal aid to a group (HRAG), via an individual Bennachie, who stated in his first application for legal aid in February 1999, that he had been on an invalid’s benefit of $239.37 per week since 24 January 1995 (a period of 4 years).
In response to an official information request from the society, Mr Andrew Harbidge, Operations Adviser to the Legal Services Agency, has disclosed in a letter dated 12 September 205, that $4041.91 was paid out by LSB to Bennachie’s legal aid lawyer for the High Court appeal and $8,999.94 for work in the Court of Appeal.
Charles Chauvel’s Bio on his Labour Party promotional website states:
“At Minter Ellisen, Charles has taken important [legal] cases without charge. In 2001 [sic], before a Full Court of the High Court, he successfully defended a censorship appeal [from Living Word] to restrict the availability of anti-gay hate literature.”
The GayNZ website (18/1/05) states:
“He [Charles Chauvel] acted as counsel on a pro-bono basis in 1994 in a case before the Indecent Publications Tribunal seeking to classify fundamentalist Christian anti-gay hate literature, and again before the High Court in 2000 in the infamous Living Word case, which involved videos of a similar nature.”
In 1994 Chauvel did represent “gay” rights activists before the Indecent Publications Tribunal seeking to ban a book entitled “Exposing the AIDS Crisis”, by Christian researcher Paul Cameron. Mr Chauvel omits from his website the fact that his attempt to ban Cameron’s book failed. The book was classified “unrestricted” by the Tribunal.
Mr Chauvel does not say on his website is that the Living Word case that he “successfully defended” on behalf of the respondent (HRAG) before the High Court in 1999, was won by the appellant (Living Word) on a further appeal in 2000. The Full Court of Appeal (five judges), in a unanimous decision dated 31 August 2000, ruled that there were legal errors in the High Court decision of Justices Heron and Durie and therefore quashed the Board’s classification decision, instructing it to reclassify the so-called “anti-gay videos” de novo in the light of its judgement. Nine months later the Board reluctantly classified them both as “unrestricted”. Following this ruling the Chief Censor, Bill Hastings, has embarked on an unrelenting attack in the media and in his Office’s Annual Report on the Court of Appeal decision that led to the overturned the Board’s ban that he wrote.
In Bennachie’s application for civil legal aid which he signed on 12 February 1999 before legal aid lawyer Bronwyn Anne Heenan of Wellington, he lists Charles Chauvel as the solicitor who had agreed to represent him and records his law firm as Rudd Watts & Stone 125 The Terrace, Wellington. Mr Bennachie declared in his application that he had been receiving an Invalids Benefit of $239.37 weekly since 24 January 1995, a period of four years.
In his application for aid, which he signed on 3 July 2000 before legal aid lawyer Antoinette Lee Russell, Bennachie listed Charles Chauvel of Rudd Watts and Stone as the solicitor who had agreed to act for him. Ms Russell applied for $9,000 of legal aid. All details of Bennachie’s financial position have been deleted from this application released to the society by the Legal Services Agency (LSA), following an official information request.
The Legal Services Agency in Wellington has refused to release to the Society any copies of “documentation showing when and to whom payments [of legal aid] were made and the money paid out” in the Living Word case. Mr Harbidge states in his letter of 12 September 2005: “Your request …is refused on the grounds that this is the personal information of legally aided person and relates to the nature of the services provided. This information is withheld under sections 9(2)(a) and 9(2)(b)(ii) of the Official Information Act.”
The society has appealed this refusal to release information to the Office of the Ombudsman. It is astounded that the Agency is refusing to release important information that should be open to public scrutiny. All legal aid payments to legal aid lawyers involving tax-payers’money and the processes undertaken in payments, must be seen to be fair and transparent.
The “gay” activist camp can never again claim that their agenda is not to crush dissent as actions have spoken louder than words. Indeed, key players in Living Word case remain unrepentant. Interveners in the Court of Appeal case that sided with the “gay” and lesbian lobby group (HRAG) included: senior legal counsel for the New Zealand AIDS foundation, the Attorney-General’s Office, The Human Right’s Commission and the Race Relations Conciliator. All of these agencies and bodies are funded from the public purse. In addition the NZ Council for Civil Liberties was an intervener.
It is noteworthy that the Labour Party is happy to endorse Chauvel, a member of the Rainbow Labour Team and a key Living Word lawyer.
The Society is continuing its investigation into the payments made by the Legal Services Board to the civil legal aid applicant, “gay” activist, Calum Bennachie.
[1] Criteria for legal aid for a civil matter under the Legal Services Act 2000
[2] Full Transcript of Video “Aids: What You Haven't Been Told”
[3] Full Transcript of Video “Gay Rights / Special Rights:
Inside the Homosexual Agenda”.
[4] In The Court of Appeal of New Zealand [CA 58/00] between
[5] News
Tuesday January 18, 2005-09-15
“He [Charles Chauvel] acted as counsel on a pro-bono basis in 1994 in a case before the Indecent Publications Tribunal seeking to classify fundamentalist Christian anti-gay hate literature, and again before the High Court in 2000 in the infamous Living Word case, which involved videos of a similar nature.”
[6] Question from GayNZ to Labour Party candidate Charles Chauvel.
What is your worst habit?
Chauvel’s Answer:
“Standing against MPs in safe seats who take homophobic positions (stood against Bill Birch, who opposed Homosexual Law Reform and adding sexual orientation to the Human Rights Act, in 1990; standing against Peter Dunne, who opposed the Civil Union Bill, in 2005).”

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