The High Court of New Zealand has handed down its judgment in the defamation proceedings brought by CPA Australia against the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants, which now forms part of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CAANZ).
CPA Australia alleged that on a number of occasions between 2011 and 2013, NZICA overstepped the appropriate boundaries of rivalry between the designations, with actions covering statements in flyers, advertisements, news articles and at industry events which were defamatory and in breach of the NZ Fair Trading Act 1986.
In the judgment, released last week, Justice Robert Dobson found that “some aspects of the May 2011 flyer were misleading” because NZICA misrepresented information in purporting to compare the earnings of CPA members with the earnings of chartered accountants in New Zealand, and that it had published “a pattern of adverse comparisons that portrayed CPAA in a misleadingly inferior light”.
Justice Dobson also found that CPA Australia “made out elements of actionable defamation” in relation to comments made at the industry events. He found that CPA Australia’s “complaints were understandable”.
Ultimately, however, Justice Dobson found that NZICA had been successful in its defence, both against allegations made by CPA Australia of defamation and in relation to any breach of the Fair Trading Act. Accordingly, the relief sought by CPA Australia – a declaration of defamation and monetary damages – was denied.
Lee White, CEO of CAANZ, said he was happy with the result: “We are pleased that our defence was successful. We are keen to continue our focus on the work of the new organisation and will continue to support our team and our members as we move into exciting times for the Chartered Accounting profession,” he said.
Despite the judge awarding no penalties, CPA Australia's CEO, Alex Malley, said he was pleased by the judge’s findings.
“We believe Justice Dobson’s findings that NZICA defamed CPA Australia and breached provisions of the Fair Trading Act are a vindication of the action we have taken on behalf of our members,” Mr Malley said.
“We commenced these proceedings as a last resort, and only after all attempts to resolve the matter outside these proceedings had been exhausted.
“First and foremost we were acting as a matter of principle to defend the integrity of the CPA designation, and of the profession more generally,” Mr Malley said.
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