READT Chair appointment ‘unlawful’, hundreds of cases at risk


THE CHAIRMAN of the Crown agency that deals with rogue real estate agents is facing the axe after revelations his appointment four years ago was unlawful.

In 2011 the Government handpicked former district court judge Paul Barber to head the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal in a move supposedly heralding a new environment of accountability for the industry.

However, Barber?s days could be numbered after confirmation from the New Zealand Law Society yesterday the 78-year-old, who still refers to himself as a judge, did not hold a practising certificate ? a requirement under the Real Estate Agents Act 2008 to fulfil the role of chairman. ??

Auckland University law professor Bill Hodge was reluctant to comment on whether Barber should stay or go, but said there was a requirement under section 100 of the Act for the tribunal chairman to be a barrister or solicitor with no less than 7 years? legal experience.

Hodge said a barrister was defined under Section 6 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 ?as a person ?enrolled as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court ?…and practicing as a barrister? or solicitor.?

?So the statutory definition refers to both enrolment and practicing,? he said.

'Judge' Paul Barber

‘Judge’ Paul Barber

Barber?s fate is now likely to rest in the hands of Associate Justice Minister Simon Bridges, who yesterday was out of the country and not available for comment.

If Bridges does act and sack Barber that could lead to calls for a review of the hundreds of tribunal cases Barber has adjudicated on over the past four years.

If he doesn?t act, then there is likely to be a complete erosion of public confidence in the ability of the tribunal to promote the interests of property owners and deal with alleged breaches of conduct by real estate agents.

Barber was a District Court Judge from 1981 until 1997 when he officially retired.

Since 1997 he has held Taxation Review Authority and Customs Appeal Authority positions, and has been hearing Accident Compensation Appeals since 2001.

In 2009 he was appointed as an ?acting judge? by Attorney General Chris Finlayson to help lighten some of the workload on members of the judiciary.

He would have been 72 at the time ? two years older than the mandatory retirement age for judges in New Zealand.

Under section 10 of the District Courts Act 1947 a former judge who has reached the age of 70 years may be appointed for a period of up to one year, or for two or more periods not exceeding four years in the aggregate. But Section 10 also specifies that each appointment must not exceed one year if the person is 72-years-old as in Barber?s case.

If that provision of the law was applied as it should have in the case of Barber, he would not have held a judge?s warrant when he was appointed chairman of the Real Estate Disciplinary Tribunal.

But despite that, during his tenure as chairman he has continued to refer to himself as a judge.

On the READT website Barber is referred to as ?Judge Barber?. On tribunal decisions he signs off as ?Judge PF Barber? ? he?s even down as ?Judge PF Barber? on his White Pages listing.

This week Barber finally admitted he was not a judge.

He did. However, admit signing off tribunal decisions as ?Judge PF Barber? but blamed his staff who kept referring to him as a district court judge despite the fact he did not have a warrant.

cookStephen Cook is a multi award winning journalist and former news editor and assistant editor of the Herald on Sunday.