The Christchurch Civic Creche Case

News Reports


The Herald
January 3, 2004

Goff plans tougher pardon rules
by Audrey Young, political editor

Justice Minister 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 political pressures.

"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 Appeal."

While he wanted change, Mr Goff did not believe the present system had let anyone down.

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 more critical.

"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.

Case notes

* The Royal Prerogative of Mercy is an appeal of last resort outside the judicial system.

* 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 conviction.