INM opposes the appointment of ODCE inspectors, seeks judicial review
INDEPENDENT News and Media (INM) is opposing an application by the State's corporate watchdog for the appointment of inspectors to investigate whether its affairs have been conducted in an unlawful manner or one unfairly prejudicial to part of its members.
The Director of Corporate Enforcement, Ian Drennan, says he is concerned the range of "potentially unlawful conduct" that may have taken place within INM is "extensive" and contends there is a “compelling public interest” for inspectors to be appointed.
INM, which employs more than 800 people, is opposing the appointment of inspectors and is also seeking judicial review of the application by Mr Drennan, made following a year-long investigation by his office arising from protected disclosures in 2016 and 2017 of INM’s former CEO Robert Pitt, and a 2016 protected disclosure by INM Chief Financial Officer Ryan Preston.
INM says it should have had been given notice of the Director’s intention to seek inspectors and should have had an opportunity to make submissions before the application was brought. It also wants a court order quashing the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) decision to seek the inspectors’ appointment.
When the ODCE application came before the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, he was told both sides had agreed the ODCE application, and the judicial review matter, could be heard together in a telescoped hearing in May.
The judge said he was not convinced the two matters should be heard together or by the same judge and he believed the judicial review should be heard separately.
He directed a hearing of a telescoped judicial review application, involving the leave application and full judicial review being heard together on May 9th. That must be heard before the ODCE application because it sought to inflict a “knock out blow” on that application proceeding at all, he said.
However, he would also ensure that steps continue in the interim to progress hearing of the ODCE application, subject to the outcome of the judicial review.
Earlier the judge heard several parties are seeking access to the documents and the ODCE had received complaints, including from Denis O’Brien, about alleged leaking of documents to the media. Mr O’Brien had alleged the media reports had and are continuing to cause damage to his reputation for which he was holding the ODCE responsible.
Neil Steen SC, for the ODCE, said his client denied any such responsibility and had not leaked any material. Media reports concerning the matter only occurred after the papers were served on INM and the ODCE was obliged to serve those, he said.
The judge directed that the documents for the application should not be provided pending the clarification of whether certain material in the documents is, as INM contends, privileged and should not have been included.