Court of Appeal rules on Reay v AG & IPENZ

Mr Reay's firm designed the CTV building in Christchurch, which collapsed in the 2011 earthquakes, killing a number of people.  A complaint about Mr Reay was referred to the IPENZ disciplinary process, and Mr Reay resigned from IPENZ (a membership organisation) before the complaints process could be completed.  He claims that his resignation was unrelated to the disciplinary process, but argued anyway that as he was no longer a member, IPENZ had no basis to continue with its disciplinary process.

In the High Court, Collins J held that, as IPENZ was discharging a statutory function in relation to "chartered engineers", its actions were subject to judicial review and, interpreting the rules of IPENZ, Mr Reay's resignation had no effect on the disciplinary proceedings as the complaint related to the point in time when Mr Reay was a member.

In the Court of Appeal decision, Miller J made some interesting observations.  

First, in relation to contract interpretation, citing the Vector Gas case and the Firm PI 1 case (both in the Supreme Court):

In short, a court seeks to ascertain the meaning that the contract would convey to a person having all the background knowledge that would reasonably have been available to the parties in the situation they found themselves at the time of the contract.  Text is centrally important but context is a necessary element of the interpretive process, and a court need not first identify an ambiguity in the text before having recourse to it.

The second, in relation to judicial review, the Court held that there was a public interest sufficient to justify judicial intervention:

The public interest in the maintenance of professional standards, and IPENZ's interest in its standing and reputation, are relevant considerations, both textually and as context, when interpreting the 1986 Rules.  They are textual considerations because the rules incorporate them ... [they] specifically invoked the public interest, and also the standing and reputation of IPENZ, and especially in matters of health and safety.

The clarification of the rules of contract interpretation and the ability of the court of review apparently administrative action by a private members organisation where there is a public interest is to be welcomed.