Former New Zealand women's rugby league team physiotherapist Skye Renes has been refused a shot at a Supreme Court appeal against her convictions for Accident Compensation Corporation fraud.
Renes, 41, was the manager and part-owner of Fizeo Works Physiotherapy in Raumanga, Whangārei, when she was found guilty by a jury in 2019 of three dishonesty offences relating to ACC provider claims between 2011 and 2016.
During the offending period, she was also the team physio for the Kiwi Ferns national women's rugby league team.
She was sentenced to 200 hours of community work.
While the exact amount of the fraud involved is unknown, the sentencing judge put it between $2700 and $13,000.
Renes appealed against her convictions in the Court of Appeal but the appeal was dismissed. She sought leave to have the Supreme Court revisit the Court of Appeal's decision but it refused. There was nothing to suggest the Court of Appeal's reasoning in considering Renes' appeal was wrong and nothing to justify a further appeal, the Supreme Court said.
Renes' future as a physiotherapist now rests with the Physiotherapy Board of New Zealand.
In response to questions from Open Justice, Board Registrar James Dunn said Renes no longer held an annual practice certificate so was not currently registered. Given the Supreme Court only recently released its decision, the board's own complaints process for Renes' conduct was still at an early stage.
Dunn would not be drawn on the length of any ban from practising the board might impose on Renes but said all decisions were made on a case-by-case basis.
Two of the charges Renes was convicted of were representative of multiple offences.
One alleged she submitted claims to ACC for about 629 treatments provided by student massage therapist Chelsea Pieta, who attended nationwide rodeos and sports tournaments for the business.
Even though Pieta was not a qualified physio and not eligible to complete ACC funding claim forms she did so progressively from 2012, getting more involved after Renes herself suffered an injury in 2014.
The other charge alleged Renes claimed ACC fees for about 294 treatments invoiced under another physio named Katherine Spence's ACC provider ID that were not provided by that physio.
Evidence at trial was that Renes and Spence were present for some of the treatments, which did not support the Crown's assumption in laying the representative charges the way it had.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, Renes' counsel Warren Pyke submitted those charges should have been broken up into smaller ones and that the judge failed to give a unanimity direction that might otherwise have remedied the problem.
Therefore, the verdict on those charges was unreasonable and/or the trial was unfair, Pyke said.
The Court of Appeal and Supreme Court were also critical the charges were not split during the trial and agreed with Pyke that a unanimity direction should have been given.
However, the Court of Appeal said there was no miscarriage of justice because of a question the jury asked as to whether the charges could be split.
The Supreme Court said it was unfortunate the judge did not directly answer the jury's question.
But it agreed with the Appeal Court the question asked by the jury, which related to the representative charge involving Renes, showed the jury was focused on the times she was present.
The Supreme Court also supported the Appellant Court's reasoning that the jury would not have treated the second representative charge (involving Spence) with the same logic.
"In any event, nothing raised by the applicant calls into question the Court of Appeal's assessment that the jury was agreed as to proof of all the elements of the offences in situations where Renes was not in attendance", the Supreme Court said.
The third charge – one of using a document to gain a pecuniary advantage - related to a single incident in which Renes, during 2016, filled out and submitted an ACC24 registration form for another physio to provide ACC treatments, including by forging the physio's signature.
The physio involved was a recent graduate, Timothy Whale, whose evidence at trial was that Renes completed the form even before his first day on the job at Fizeo Works and that her forged attempt at his signature was "not even close" to his.
Whale's resignation letter supported his evidence of having left the job due to dissatisfaction with practices he considered improper.
Renes appealed against her conviction on the charge involving Whale on the basis that the filing of the ACC24 form could not in itself bring a pecuniary advantage to her - that it was mere preparation, which meant the elements of the offence were not satisfied.
The Court of Appeal noted the offence only required an intent to obtain a pecuniary advantage and this could have been from either the registration itself or later claims for treatments provided by Whale once registered. Completing the registration form was a key step toward being able to make that later claim.
The Supreme Court said nothing raised on Renes' behalf suggested the reasoning of the appellant court might have been wrong.
* Renes stood trial on 38 charges. She was discharged on 11. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on three charges and acquitted Renes of a further 21 charges.
- Sarah Curtis, Open Justice