Leslie Buckley must pay costs of failed bid to have INM inspectors revoked

Justice Garrett Simons orders former INM chairman to pay substantial legal fees

Former INM chairman Leslie Buckley had attempted to revoke the High Court’s appointment of two inspectors into various matters at the media group.

Former INM chairman Leslie Buckley had attempted to revoke the High Court’s appointment of two inspectors into various matters at the media group.

 

Former Independent News & Media chairman Leslie Buckley has been ordered to pay most of the substantial legal costs of his failed bid to revoke the High Court’s appointment of two inspectors into various matters at the media group.

Mr Justice Garrett Simons ruled on Monday that Mr Buckley should pay the legal costs incurred by the inspectors, Sean Gillane SC and Richard Fleck CBE, in opposing the eight-day hearing of the application.

However, the judge rejected arguments Mr Buckley should also pay the costs of former INM chief executive Robert Pitt’s legal representation at the hearing.

Mr Buckley had not objected to an order requiring he pay the inspectors’ costs but he opposed paying Mr Pitt’s costs on grounds Mr Pitt’s representation at the hearing was unnecessary.

In his costs ruling, the judge said the substantive hearing did not engage any right or entitlement peculiar to Mr Pitt and the latter had failed to identify any interest which would entitle him to recover his costs of being represented at that hearing.

Mr Pitt was entitled to the costs incurred by him up to the hearing, including costs of representation at various direction hearings and submissions, he added.

In a judgment last February, Mr Justice Simons refused the revocation application after finding Mr Buckley had failed to make out a case to support his claims of “objective bias” on the part of the inspectors.

Mr Buckley alleged objective bias arising from the contents of draft statements of the inspectors presenting information and evidence gathered by them to date concerning five issues under investigation. He alleged the draft statements showed a pattern in favour of evidence of former INM chief executive Robert Pitt and against that of Mr Buckley.

The inspectors, appointed by the High Court in September 2018, strongly denied objective bias.

Mr Justice Simons ruled the revocation application was irreconcilable with existing case law on the proper scope of objective bias.

He said a number of matters under investigation concern allegations made against Mr Buckley by Mr Pitt. Mr Buckley refuted those allegations and challenged the credibility of Mr Pitt.

‘Untenable’ arguments

The inspectors had invited submissions on the draft statements and intend to issue revised versions of the draft statements, which would correct many of the errors complained of by Mr Buckley.

The judge said objective bias may not be inferred from a pattern of erroneous decisions and Mr Buckley could not rely on errors which occurred at an early stage of the process, before the inspectors reach any final determination.

The judge also described as “untenable” arguments by Mr Buckley that the court should draw inferences from the errors made.

The inspectorate process is still at a relatively early stage and it is envisaged there will be further oral evidence and cross-examination of witnesses by interested parties, he noted. For the court to examine the draft statements now would involve trespassing on the inspectors’ role.

The Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) sought the inspectors appointment following his office’s year-long investigation into matters at INM arising from protected disclosures made in 2016 and 2017 by Mr Pitt and former INM chief financial officer Ryan Preston.

Five issues being investigated include the alleged off-site interrogation in 2014 of the data of 19 individuals, including journalists and barristers, and Mr Buckley’s communication with Denis O’Brien as a major shareholder in INM.