Peter Ellis, the former childcare worker who claims he was wrongfully convicted of child sex abuse, has a new advocate - National leader Simon Bridges.
Bridges says Ellis’s case is the most obvious case of a miscarriage of justice in the New Zealand system, but has stopped short of calling for any action to clear his name.
In 1993, Ellis was found guilty of 16 sexual offences related to his time working at the Christchurch Civic Creche and sentenced to 10 years in jail.
Ellis has consistently maintained his innocence, making a number of legal appeals and political bids to overturn the convictions, and gained a number of high-profile supporters critical of the way the prosecution case was handled.
In 2015, the National government knocked back a request for a commission of inquiry into the case, with then-Justice Minister Amy Adams saying it was not the right mechanism to determine his guilt or innocence.
'Fundamentally a miscue'
Speaking at a community event in Auckland on Friday morning, Bridges was asked about his views on Ellis’ case and the broader issue of wrongful convictions.
“I say this as Simon Bridges, lawyer, not as Simon Bridges, politician: when I look at all of the convictions you see in New Zealand, people have all of these views ... there’s only one that I would say fundamentally was a miscue, and that’s the Peter Ellis one.”
Bridges told Newsroom after the event he believed Ellis had been subject to a miscarriage of justice.
“My view is if you look at it out of all the other ones, people have their different views, but you look at the evidence [for other wrongful conviction claims], there’s definitely a prosecution case there.
“The difference with the Peter Ellis one was there were things that went awry in the prosecution and the investigation, and there was something of a witch hunt about that one.”
However, Bridges stopped short of calling for an inquiry or any other action, saying he was unsure whether “all these years on there are necessarily things to be done”.
"I’m not trying to be funny with you, I just don’t know, because I haven’t looked at exactly where it is in the system - I’m simply making the point that when you look at all the cases, many high-profile, that is the one where you make the strongest case for miscarriage of justice.”
Bridges lukewarm on commission
Despite his views on Ellis, Bridges was lukewarm about Justice Minister Andrew Little’s work on a Criminal Cases Review Commission to look at apparent miscarriages of justice, telling the crowd there were “many safety valves in the system”.
“The reality is we do thousands and thousands and thousands of criminal cases every year in New Zealand, actually I can tell you as a prosecutor I had complete discretion: if I didn’t think they were guilty, if the evidence didn't stack up, I didn’t need to take a case...
“I’m not knocking this because it’s how it should be, but, many many more guilty people are acquitted than innocent people convicted.”
Bridges also criticised Helen Clark’s decision to abolish the right of appeal to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom, describing the 2003 move as “deeply unconstitutional”.
“It was a significant change, it should have had a referendum or at least 75 percent of Parliament voting for it - they just did it with the stroke of a pen, it was wrong.”
He said it was too late to reverse the decision, as the Supreme Court was operating “and that’s that”.