Sunday, May 24, 2015

Bulletin: New Zealand panel of lawyers and academics takes on fight against miscarriages of Justice - as government defends its justice system; It's "The New Zealand Public Interest Project."

 "Justice is slow-moving in New Zealand but must it be as slow as this? Teina Pora spent 22 years in custody on rape and murder charges until his convictions were finally quashed by the Privy Council in March. He has since learned there will be no retrial.  It was a magnificent result for those who campaigned so long on Pora's behalf, but how much time was lost? Labour's justice spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern says that she heard from someone in Pora's camp that if New Zealand had an equivalent body to England and Scotland's Criminal Cases Review Commissions, Pora might have spent five fewer years in prison. Would a criminal cases review panel help speed up long-running and expensive miscarriages of justice?  The Pora case reignited calls for a government-funded body to investigate miscarriages of justice. These calls are not new but each subsequent case makes them louder. There was David Bain. There was David Dougherty and Peter Ellis. There was Mark Lundy and Teina Pora. There is Scott Watson and Michael October. A decade ago, a retired High Court judge, Sir Thomas Thorp, argued that New Zealand needs a body similar to the UK's Criminal Cases Review Commission, created in the wake of such high-profile injustices as the case of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. Working off British examples, Thorp estimated that there are likely to be 20 innocent people in New Zealand jails at any one time.........Ardern says that the imminent launch of the New Zealand Public Interest Project (NZPIP) is therefore welcome news. It is a group of lawyers and academics with connections to the University of Canterbury and its trustees are almost a roll call of names of those who have campaigned on behalf of others.   Nigel Hampton QC is active in the campaign to clear Michael October; Hampton believes October falsely confessed to taking part in a rape and murder in Christchurch in 1994. Lawyer Kerry Cook is acting for convicted double murderer Scott Watson. Tim McKinnel worked on the Pora case. Jarrod Gilbert and Chris Gallavin are a sociologist and law lecturer and Canterbury's dean of law respectively. Glynn Rigby is a private investigator. Anna Sandiford is a forensic science consultant who gave evidence in the Bain retrial. Duncan Webb is a Christchurch insurance lawyer whose involvement shows that the NZPIP will consider civic cases as well as criminal ones. The group says on its website that a Criminal Cases Review Commission-like body is "an important absence in our country's legal system". So they set about creating their own. The Michael October and Scott Watson cases will be among the first considered by the NZPIP after it officially launches next month. The team will be helped by Canterbury University law students, both as volunteers and working for course credit. They will take cases that are in the public good, whether that means appealing miscarriages of justice against individuals, or civil matters where "access to justice is inhibited" or where a public interest is not otherwise served. They could be test cases or class actions, human rights cases or commercial and consumer matters."