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Justice Minister On Ellis Inquiry

The Governor-General has declined Mr Peter Ellis' application for a pardon, the Minister of Justice Phil Goff announced today.

The Minister also released a copy of the Report of the Ministerial Inquiry into the Peter Ellis case, by former Chief Justice the Right Honourable Sir Thomas Eichelbaum.

"The report formed the basis of my advice to the Governor-General. Sir Thomas spent over 400 hours studying the tapes, trial transcripts, Court of Appeal decisions and other material relevant to Mr Ellis' conviction. He was advised by two international experts on child abuse and child testimony, Professor Graham Davies from Leicester University in the United Kingdom and Dr Louise Sas from Canada.”

"The two international experts and Sir Thomas Eichelbaum all independently reached the same conclusion, that interviewing of the children who gave evidence was appropriate and that the reliability of the evidence on which the convictions were based was not undermined by contamination by others.”

"Sir Thomas' conclusion was clear-cut and I quote it:

'The case advanced on behalf of Mr Ellis fails to meet the test identified earlier, to satisfy the Inquiry that the convictions were unsafe, or that a particular conviction was unsafe. It fails by a distinct margin; I have not found this anything like a borderline judgment'

“The Ministerial inquiry was set up after the second Court of Appeal hearing into the Ellis case. In that hearing, the Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Ellis’s appeal as failing to show there were serious flaws or problems with the conviction which were unknown at the time of trial.”

“The Court of Appeal however observed that its jurisdiction was limited, and that some matters might be better addressed by an inquiry. In particular, it could not carry out a comprehensive review of contemporary expert opinion on matters affecting the reliability of children's evidence in allegations of mass sexual abuse.”

“Following the Court of Appeal hearing, Mr Ellis sought a pardon and a Commission of Inquiry into the case. No justice system is infallible”, Mr Goff said. “I established the inquiry to ensure that all matters relevant to the convictions were fully considered”.

“That being said, a wide-ranging factual inquiry of the kind sought by Mr Ellis was neither necessary or appropriate. It would be unrealistic to expect that children who were very young at the time of the case could give a better account of the facts ten years after the events than they could at the time of the trial. It would also be quite unfair to put the children through the trauma and stress of a factual reinvestigation.”

“Nor was it appropriate to relitigate matters which had been clearly dealt with by the Court of Appeal and the two earlier applications for exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy.”

"The Ministerial inquiry was comprehensive and detailed. I am confident that it dealt with all of the issues which warranted further investigation to protect against the possibility of a miscarriage of justice.”

"Mr Ellis's case has now had the most thorough examination possible, including:

 A very lengthy deposition hearings, where issues about the reliability of the childrens’ evidence were examined in detail;
 The tapes and transcripts of the childrens’ interviews were subjected to close scrutiny in contested pre-trial applications;
 Questions about the quality of interviewing and possibilities of contamination were covered in detail during a long and thorough trial before Justice Williamson, one of New Zealand's foremost criminal trial judges. During sentencing, Justice Williamson observed that he agreed with the jury's verdict;
 The Court of Appeal has considered the case twice. The convictions have been upheld by a total of seven different Court of Appeal judges. On each occasion, the judgments of the Court of Appeal were unanimous;
 The Ministerial Inquiry involved two pre-eminent international experts and was conducted by a retired Judge with 16 years experience on the bench, 10 of them as Chief Justice.”

"I have given to the Governor-General the only advice which could be given on the basis of the Inquiry's conclusions and the lengthy process through which the Ellis case has been taken," Mr Goff said.

ENDS


Appendix (excerpts from Ministerial Inquiry)


“I should add that I do not think that cross-talk alone is sufficient to explain the similar accusations made against Mr Ellis, particularly in relation to incidents in the crèche toilets. This is more redolent of natural variations on a theme rather than the simple glib repetition of basically the same accusation relayed between a number of children. There is a degree of detail in some of these accusations which is not in itself proof of the charges against Mr Ellis, but does mean, in my view, that such accusations deserve to be taken seriously.”


Professor Graham M Davies
University of Leicester

“Overall the investigative interviews as a whole were reasonably conducted, and in accordance with standard practice.

There is no doubt that there was some contamination of the case by the over-involvement of parents in the investigation, and the sharing of information between the complainant parents. This is always a danger in any case, and in particular in a MVMO case of this proportion. Having said that, in respect of the convictions that were based on the evidence of the six child complainants, that I was asked to comment on, I did not feel that their evidence was seriously affected and unreliable as a result of the contamination. The effect in my view was that there likely would have been more convictions if the issue of contamination by parents had not been raised so frequently.

The evidence of the six complainant children (S,Q.X,Z,R, and O) was reliable.”


Louise Sas
Child Psychologist
Canada

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