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Free Speech Coalition cals on Auckland Mayor to clarify his position

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The Free Speech Coalition is calling on Auckland Mayor Phil Goff to clarify his position on the fact that the Free Speech Coalition-led legal challenge to his and the Council’s decision to deplatform Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern is being funded by mum and dad New Zealanders, after lawyers acting for Mr Goff and the Council flagged that they may try to strike out the proceedings on the basis that the court challenge is ‘litigation funded’ (i.e. crowdfunded).

"Courts have laid down rules for disclosing some parts of commercial litigation funding arrangements as they want to know if the funder’s prospect of profit might result in an abuse of the court process," says Jordan Williams, a lawyer and one of the initial members of the Coalition. "Courts want to know if it will distort the plaintiff’s decisions, for example by unreasonably preventing settlement."

"But New Zealand courts have never applied that approach to public interest legal action. Auckland Council knows that the people chipping in to get the court’s protection for free speech have no profit motive. None of them can benefit personally. All their benefit is altruistic; to protect against politicians misusing their power and control of public assets to stifle speech they don’t want their voters to hear. This is about principle."

"The funding issue, while academically interesting, is an expensive distraction from the important freedom of expression issues at the heart of this case. So why are Mr Goff and the Council throwing this up as a red herring?"

"By flagging a possible challenge to the way in which the applicants’ case is funded, the Mayor and Council have forced the Free Speech Coalition and its lawyers to divert valuable resources to address a side issue. Unlike the Council, we do not have unlimited money to spend on this litigation. "

"More than a thousand New Zealanders donated to the Free Speech Coalition in order to uphold the Bill of Rights Act and the fundamental right of freedom of speech. It is outrageous that Mr Goff and the Council would even consider trying to have the claim struck out on the basis that it is crowdfunded."

"This might just be an underhand legal tactic, designed to increase the costs to the Free Speech Coalition, a play for time, or a brain-fart that goes nowhere. But either way, Mr Goff and the Council, who are using ratepayer money to defend their decision, should make it clear that they will not try to stop ratepayers using their own money to get a judge to rule on their powers, so that we can go back to focusing on the real issue in this case: whether or not the Mayor and Council can exercise a veto over freedom of speech."

The Free Speech Coalition launched on 9 July 2018, in response to Mr Goff’s decision to ban two controversial Canadian speakers from using Council-owned venues, and pledged to file legal proceedings if it could raise $50,000 by 5pm 13 July. It raised the target within 24 hours, and by the 13 July deadline had raised $89,000. 97 percent the total amount raised was from donations of less than $300, with 0.9 percent of donations $1000 or more, the largest being $5000.

With the funds, the Coalition engaged the public law firm Franks Ogilvie and Jack Hodder QC, and filed proceedings on 18 July.

Mr Goff who initially took full credit for the speaker ban, and said it on the basis of the speaker’s views, now says that it was the decision made by officials, and solely on the basis of safety concerns.

"The Free Speech Coalition do not endorse the views of the Canadian speakers, in fact many in the group find them repugnant. But that’s what standing up for freedom of speech is all about," says Mr Williams.

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