Peter Ellis appeal to be heard by Supreme Court

Peter Ellis was found guilty on 13 charges of abusing children at the Christchurch Civic Creche in 1993. He served seven years of a 10-year prison term, being released in 2000.

There were a number of controversial aspects of the investigation and trial of Ellis, including a range of bizarre allegations, and I think the case is deserving of being re-examined.

In 2015 Justice Minister Amy Adams declined a request from supporters for a commission of inquiry, saying it did not contain new evidence and would not determine guilt – see Peter Ellis considers Privy Council bid

The Supreme Court has now accepted an appeal from Ellis.

Case Name Peter Hugh McGregor Ellis v The Queen
Summary Criminal Appeal – Whether there was a miscarriage of justice arising from risks of contamination of or improperly obtained complainant evidence – Whether there was a miscarriage of justice arising from lack of expert evidence on the reliability of children complainants’ evidence – Whether there was a miscarriage of justice due to unreliable expert evidence being led at trial.
Judgment appealed from – Court of Appeal CA 120/98 14 October 1999

Court of Appeal decision: The Queen v Ellis [1999] NZCA 226; [2000] 1 NZLR 513; (2000) 17 CRNZ 411 (14 October 1999)

Introduction

[1] Peter Hugh McGregor Ellis faced trial in the Christchurch High Court on 28 counts alleging sexual offences against a number of young children attending the Christchurch Civic Childcare Centre. The trial commenced on 26 April 1993 and at its conclusion some six weeks later he was convicted on 16 counts. Three were the subject of a discharge by the Judge during trial, and 9 verdicts of acquittal were entered. On 22 September he was sentenced to an effective term of 10 years imprisonment. On appeal to this Court, in a judgment delivered on 8 September 1994 now reported as R v Ellis (1994) 12 CRNZ 172, three of the counts against one complainant were because of her retraction quashed and verdicts of acquittal directed, but the appeal was otherwise dismissed. Following two applications made to the Governor-General, acting pursuant to s406(a) of the Crimes Act 1961 His Excellency referred the question of the 13 convictions to this Court for hearing and determination. The Order in Council is dated 12 May 1999, identifies five broad grounds contained in the applications, and records these as forming the reasons for the reference.

Result

[95] For the reasons stated, we are not persuaded that any individual ground of appeal has been made out. Neither are we persuaded that their cumulative effect constitutes a miscarriage of justice. The appeal is therefore dismissed.

Now from Stuff:  Peter Ellis asks Supreme Court to hear his appeal over Civic Creche convictions

Ellis, now 61, served seven years of a 10-year jail sentence, before being released in February 2000.

The lawyer who represented him at his trial in 1993, Rob Harrison, is once again on the case and says thousands of hours of work had been done looking at the field of child psychology and what impacts on young interview subjects.

“It deserves to be aired and looked at again,” Harrison said.

Developments in research undertaken over the past 25 years gave better information about how children respond and how to get information from them.

“I would have often thought about the case and it’s one of those cases that is always there.

“It needs to be resolved and it’s a shame it has taken us this long.”

Ellis stood trial at the High Court in Christchurch in 1993, and was convicted of 16 charges after a six-week trial. He had been discharged on some charges and acquitted on others.

Three of the convictions were overturned on appeal in 1994 when one of the complainants retracted her allegations.

Following applications to the governor-general to exercise the prerogative of mercy, the case was referred back to the Court of Appeal in 1999, but the remaining 13 convictions stood.

Throughout, the case called into question the techniques used to interview child complainants and the risk that their evidence might have been contaminated.

It was suggested parents and professional interviewers had asked direct and suggestive questions of children, and that the children were spoken to repeatedly about the allegations.

The Supreme Court has a two-step appeal process.

The court first decides if it will hear the appeal, based on whether it is in the interests of justice. The judges consider whether it is a matter of general public importance, and whether a substantial miscarriage of justice has occurred or will occur if the appeal is not heard.

It is only if the court gives permission that an appeal can be heard.

Since Ellis was first convicted the Supreme Court has taken over from the Privy Council in London as New Zealand’s highest court. The Crown had agreed to Ellis taking his case to the Supreme Court rather than seeking a Privy Council appeal.

The Ellis case has prompted more scrutiny than almost any other in New Zealand’s legal history, involving three court hearings, four petitions seeking his pardon, and numerous other campaigns.

A senior Christchurch lawyer who had previously represented Ellis, Nigel Hampton, QC, has continued to take an interest.

“I think it is a festering sore,” he said recently.

Hampton said then he would not want judges appointed to a commission, and favoured allowing reviews to continue even after the subject of them had died.

“Peter Ellis comes to mind. If he were to die. I think [that] is an extraordinary miscarriage of justice.”

“In contrast to most miscarriage cases, where the wrong person is convicted of something, Ellis has been convicted of crimes that never existed. If he were to die, he would still die a convicted man.”

Obviously this is an important case for Ellis, and a test of the way in which child abuse cases are investigated, but it is also a very important test of the New Zealand judicial system, which seems averse to challenging questionable verdicts.