January 3, 2004
Goff plans tougher pardon rules
by Audrey Young, political editor
Phil Goff is planning tougher standards for the appeal of last resort in the
criminal justice system, the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.
The Royal Prerogative, effectively another layer of appeal outside the
judicial system, allows the Government to override the judicial system and
even pardon a convicted prisoner.
Mr Goff is not looking to change the opportunity of a convicted person to
receive a pardon for a miscarriage of justice but at the way such a pardon
would be considered.
He wants the change to remove any possibility that a minister could be
pressured to advance a case.
At present a petition is presented to the Governor-General.
By convention, it is then referred to the Minister of Justice, who refers it
to justice officials.
Officials investigate and make recommendations to the minister, who may refer
the case back to court, and eventually advises the Governor-General whether
to issue a pardon.
"It opens up the possibility that a Minister of Justice ... could be
subject to pressure from public opinion in a way that would lead him or her
not to be impartial or equitable," said Mr Goff.
"I could, as [Sir Robert] Muldoon did, give a pardon. It has only
happened once in the last century. That at least was premised on a
substantive issue that it had been found that evidence had been planted in
the [Arthur Allan] Thomas case."
It was critical that the system be seen to be impartial and not subject to
"There is a bit of a misconception among some supporters of some people
who have been convicted that the minister should be able to waltz in and all
the minister needs is 'the courage' to pardon or to refer to the Court of
While he wanted change, Mr Goff did not believe the present system had let
He believed the process that was followed in the David Bain application
"provided an extra safeguard for the conviction and responded to a
public concern that a miscarriage of justice had been a possibility".
Of the application by convicted child-sex offender Peter Ellis, Mr Goff was
"Clearly in the Ellis case, critics aren't aware of the requirements of
the need for fresh evidence," he said.
"Some of the supporters of Mr Ellis believe that I should automatically
issue a pardon. How can I issue a pardon on the basis of no new evidence -
and a series of judicial procedures [that] have all found there has been no
miscarriage of justice?"
Mr Goff will take a paper to the Cabinet and caucus this year proposing to
set up a Criminal Cases Board.
If it is accepted, it will clearly set out the criteria for exercising the
Royal Prerogative of Mercy, including fresh and credible evidence and
deficiencies in representation or court processes which could have led to a
miscarriage of justice.
* The Royal Prerogative of Mercy is an appeal of last resort outside the
* Arthur Allan Thomas is the only person who has been pardoned in New Zealand
under the measure in the past 100 years.
* David Bain won the chance to have new issues considered by the Court of
Appeal, though his conviction was declared safe.
* Royal Prerogative also allowed Phil Goff to set up a ministerial commission
on the Peter Ellis Christchurch civic case which also reinforced the