The Christchurch Civic Crèche Case

News Reports

2001 Jan-June

Otago Daily Times
March 17, 2001

Ablett Kerr angry that expert's opinion not sought
Staff Reporter and NZPA

Dunedin QC Judith Ablett Kerr is angry a retired High Court judge's recommendation that a formal opinion on the Peter Ellis case be sought from an expert American psychologist was twice rejected.

In a 1999 report, Sir Thomas Thorp recommended a formal opinion on evidence given by children from Christchurch's Civic Crèche be obtained from Cornell University psychology professor Stephen Ceci, Mrs Ablett Kerr said in a statement yesterday.

Sir Thomas' report into the case of convicted paedophile Ellis was released by Justice Minister Phil Goff this week.

Ellis, freed in February last year after serving two-thirds of a 10-year sentence for his 1993 conviction on 13 charges of abusing children, maintains his innocence.

Mrs Ablett Kerr said the Crown Law Office rejected a request it consent to Prof Ceci providing an independent brief to the Court of Appeal.

Former chief justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum also rejected a request from Mrs Ablett Kerr last year that he approach the expert on the mass-allegation crèche case, she said.

The Eichelbaum report was released this week.

"Mr Ellis is of the view that his case will not be resolved until there is a wider inquiry and Prof Ceci is asked to give his opinion on all the evidence," Mrs Ablett Kerr said.

Sir Thomas Thorp's report said the two petitions filed on behalf of Ellis raised a "considerable number of issues sufficiently to point to a need for further investigation".

The report canvassed issues raised in Ellis' petitions, including claims defective interviewing techniques were used to gain the children's evidence and that allegations by the children that were necessary for the jury to access their reliability were excluded from the trial.

But it was inappropriate to express any firm view on whether Ellis should be pardoned at that time, nor should a pardon be considered while his case was before the Appeal Court, Sir Thomas said.

It would "in my view be difficult to argue against the existence of a serious doubt" about Ellis' convictions if the opinions canvassed proved to have general support, he said.

Mr Goff said the report was not casting doubt on Ellis' convictions.

"It was based on untested expert reports commissioned by Mrs Judith Ablett Kerr QC, and the experts had only been given selective materials on which to base their opinions.

"Sir Thomas Thorp recognised the limitations of the reports, but nevertheless considered they gave rise to serious concerns which warranted further investigation."

The report resulted in a widening of the Appeal Court's terms of reference for the case. But the Appeal Court decided it was unable to address issues relating to evidence because of limits on its jurisdiction and the way in which evidence had been presented.

"It was for that reason that I established the Eichelbaum inquiry," Mr Goff said.

He announced earlier this week the ministerial inquiry by Sir Thomas Eichelbaum found Ellis' case failed by a "distinct margin" to prove his conviction was unsafe.

"The Eichelbaum inquiry was exactly the kind of inquiry contemplated in the Thorp report," Mr Goff said in a statement yesterday. "Sir Thomas Eichelbaum obtained views of pre-eminent international experts who were entirely independent and based their views on a full knowledge of the case rather than selected materials. I am satisfied that this case has had the most thorough investigation possible, and that I had no option but to advise the Governor-General to decline Mr Ellis' recent application for a pardon."