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Supreme Courts roundup 7 to 13 May

14 May 2020

Decisions, proceedings and news from the highest courts in some common law jurisdictions in the last week are as follows:

Supreme Court of New Zealand

Summary judgment principles, settlement deed

Phillips v Ngati Toa Custodian Trustee Ltd [2020] NZSC 46 (11 May 2020)

Unsuccessful leave application – P sought leave to appeal against CA granting summary judgment to Ngati Tama Custodian Trustee Ltd (“NT”) – CA had allowed NT’s appeal from HC judgment dismissing NT’s summary judgment application – Proposed appeal to SC related to meaning of a deed of settlement under which NT and associated parties resolved a dispute with P and his associated parties – Disputed matters essentially related to company called MyVirtualHome International Ltd (“MVHI”) - Both groups were shareholders - Issues particularly arose about intellectual property rights associated with the MyVirtualHome system - In deed, P agreed not to bring any further claims against NT concerning “the Dispute”, “the Consolidated Proceedings”, or “any other matter howsoever arising” out of either of those terms -  P subesquently issued notices to NT to cease using property – NT said notices breached settlement deed and applied for summary judgment – HC focused on P’s view that subject matter outside deed’s ambit – CA  took different view as to what was a live issue in terms of the ownership of the relevant intellectual property rights at the time – P essentially supported HC view – said CA erred in a number of respects in allowing NT’s appeal - SC said no challenge to either the principles that applied to application for summary judgment or to principles of contractual interpretation adopted – Rather, relevant principles not applied fairly here -  Proposed appeal would turn on facts specific to the wording of this particular deed - No question of general or public importance or of general commercial importance arose – Nor did there appear to be miscarriage of justice – Leave application dismissed.

Evidence, theory of case

Rameka v R [2020] NZSC 44

Unsuccessful leave application -  Following jury trial, R convicted of cultivating cannabis - Appeal against conviction dismissed – Sought leave to appeal to SC - said he was not able to put his defence properly before the jury – On 20 January 2016 the police executed a search warrant at R’s address and found 48 cannabis plants growing on the property - Search warrant for R’s property based on information from a registered informant - R thought informant was a neighbour (one of his relations) and that this relative had informed on him in order to deflect attention from himself - Search warrant had been executed the day before on the relative’s property - R’s case to CA was that he was stopped from advancing his theory at trial (that the informant was his relative and that the cannabis belonged to that relative) as he had been told the issue had been disposed of in the pre‑trial application - CA said R’s trial counsel had put theory to the police – Police officer asked if there was a connection between the two addresses and if the search of the neighbouring property had led to the warrant being issued for Mr Rameka’s address - Officer answered both questions in the negative - Officer’s evidence not challenged.
- CA said exchange addressed R’s assertion that he was not allowed to raise his concerns about the informant at trial – SC said application raised no issue of general or public importance - No risk of a miscarriage of justice – application dismissed.

High Court of Australia

No decisions released during this period.

Supreme Court of Canada

No decisions released during this period.

Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal

No decisions released during this period.

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

Judicial review, Minister’s licensing powers, legitimate expectation, damages

Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs v Maharaj and anor [2020] UKPC 13

Successful appeal from Trindad and Tobago CA -  judicial review claim brought by M and his brother, against a minister for suspending or revoking their licence to sell petrol - The brothers operated petrol stations under annual licences the Minister issued - In 2012,  Minister suspended operations at the two petrol stations following inspections by officials, who alleged unsafe practices and breaches of the licences. The Appellants were not permitted to return to the petrol stations The brothers said Minister had no power to suspend their licences and had acted in breach of a settled practice in suspending their stations without first giving them a chance to remedy or respond to the charges against them – HC said Minister had effectively revoked the Appellants’ licences, that he had no power to do so, and in any event the decision was unfair and taken in breach of the Appellants legitimate expectations because they had not been given the opportunity to rectify the alleged problems – HC quashed Minister’s decisions - On appeal, CA said Minister had an implied power to suspend the licences, there had been no procedural unfairness, and the Minister had acted proportionately and reasonably - CA set aside HC order – PC allowed the appeals - Minister had no power to suspend - Purported suspension of the relevant de facto licences was unlawful - Appellants also entitled to damages for breach of their rights under section 4(a) of the Constitution - Cases remitted to local courts for damages quantum to be determined.

Supreme Court of Ireland

Parole, detention in mental health facility

M v Parole Board and Minister for Justice and Equality [2020] IESC

Unsuccessful appeal - issue on appeal whether a long-term prisoner who was transferred to the Central Mental Hospital (“the CMH”), entitled to be considered for conditional release – M pleaded guilty to murder in 2007 and was sentenced to life imprisonment, backdated to May 2006 - During the first few years of his sentence he was transferred several times from prison to the CMH, under the provisions of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006, for treatment for schizophrenia  - Condition apparently regressed each time he was transferred back to prison - Indications were he did not comply with his medication regime and used illicit substances - Last transfer to CMH in January 2012 and detained there since - In 2017 M applied to the the Parole Board (“the Board”), for an assessment for parole - Board said could not consider his application while he was detained in the CMH - Minister said  he could not consider an application for temporary release – M accepted that, if released, he might be detained in a psychiatric facility under the provisions of the Mental Health Act 2001 as amended. However, he saw this as preferable to what he saw as prospect of serving a full life term in the CMH -  SC said as matters stood a life prisoner who developed a serious and chronic mental illness that required in-patient treatment could end up indefinitely in the high-security setting of the CMH – Appeal dismissed.

Singapore Court of Appeal

No decisions released during this period.

Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

Lease interpretation, lessor powers

Duval v 11-13 Randolph Crescent Ltd [2020] UKSC 18

Unsuccessful appeal from CA - 11-13 Randolph Crescent was a block of nine flats in Maida Vale, London – D held two of the leases and W held a third lease - The term of each lease is 125 years from 24 June 1981- RC Ltd, the landlord, owned the building’s freehold and was property’s management company – Flat leasholders owned all of the shares in the landlord company - Leases in all relevant respects, were in substantially the same form - Each contained clause 2.6, which prevented the lessee from making any alteration or improvement in, or addition to, the premises without the prior written consent of the landlord - Consent could not be unreasonably withheld - Each lease also contained an absolute covenant, clause 2.7, which prevented the lessee from cutting into any roofs, walls, ceilings or service media - Also, clause 3.19 of each lease required the landlord to enforce, at the request and cost of any lessee, certain covenants in the leases held by the other lessees, including any covenant of a similar nature to clause 2.7 - In 2015, W sought a licence from the landlord to carry out works to her flat - Works involved removing a substantial part of a load bearing wall at basement level - Licence refused after the proposal came to D’s attention – Following engineers’ and other reports, RC later proposed allowing works -  D issued proceedings against RC, seeking a declaration that it did not possess the power to permit W to act in breach of clause 2.7 of her lease – First Instance judge said, on the proper interpretation of clause 3.19, RC had no power to waive any of the covenants in clause 2 without the prior consent of all lessees - Central London County Court allowed RC’s appeal - D appealed, successfully, to CA – RC appealed to SC – SC unanimously dismissed RC’s appeal.

Supreme Court of the United States

Political retribution, wire fraud, fraud on federally funded program

Kelly v United States 590 _ US 2020 No 18-1059

Successful appeal from 3rd Circuit CA - During former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s 2013 reelection campaign, his Deputy Chief of Staff, Bridget Anne Kelly (“K”), avidly courted Democratic mayors for their endorsements - Fort Lee’s mayor refused to back the Governor’s campaign - Determined to punish the mayor, K, Port Authority Deputy Executive Director William Baroni (“B”), and another Port Authority official, David Wildstein, decided to reduce from three to one the number of lanes long reserved at the George Washington Bridge’s toll plaza for Fort Lee’s morning commuters to Manhattan - To disguise their efforts at political retribution, Wildstein devised a cover story: The lane realignment was for a traffic study - As part of that cover story, the defendants asked Port Authority traffic engineers to collect some numbers about the effect of the changes - At the suggestion of a Port Authority manager, they also agreed to pay an extra toll collector overtime so that Fort Lee’s one remaining lane would not be shut down if the collector on duty needed a break - The lane realignment caused four days of gridlock in Fort Lee, and only ended when the Port Authority’s Executive Director learned of the scheme - Baroni and Kelly were convicted in federal court of wire fraud, fraud on a federally funded program or entity (the Port Authority), and conspiracy to commit each of those crimes - The Third Circuit affirmed the federal court decision Kelly and Baroni appealed to SC -  It said because the scheme here did not aim to obtain money or property, Baroni and Kelly could not have violated the federal-program fraud or wire fraud laws - Federal wire fraud statute made it a crime to effect (with the use of the wires) “any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises” - Similarly, the federal program fraud statute barred “obtain[ing] by fraud” the “property” (including money) of a federally funded program or entity - These statutes were “limited in scope to the protection of property rights,” and did not authorize federal prosecutors to “set[ ] standards of disclosure and good government for local and state officials” - Under either provision, the Government had to show not only that B and K engaged in deception, but that an object of their fraud was money or property - B’s and K’s realignment of the access lanes was an exercise of regulatory power—a reallocation of the lanes between different groups of drivers – SC had previously said a scheme to alter such a regulatory choice is not one to take the government’s property - While a government’s right to its employees’ time and labor was a property interest, the prosecution had also to show that it was an “object of the fraud” -  Here, the time and labor of the Port Authority employees were just the implementation costs of the defendants’ scheme to reallocate the Bridge’s lanes—an incidental (even if foreseen) byproduct of their regulatory object - Neither defendant sought to obtain the services that the employees provided – SC unanimously reversed CA decision.

Last updated on the 14th May 2020