The Christchurch Civic Creche Case

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NZ Herald
March 27 2008; 06:00

Ellis Royal Commission rejected

Associate Justice Minister Rick Barker has rejected a new call for a full royal commission of inquiry into the case of convicted Christchurch childcare worker Peter Ellis.

Mr Barker told a researcher working on Ellis' case that a royal commission cannot be convened to determine the guilt or innocence of an individual as its primary purpose.

"If Mr Ellis wishes to pursue the question of whether a miscarriage of justice has occurred, the avenue of appeal to the Privy Council remains open," Mr Barker said in excerpts of a letter posted on the Poneke weblog.

Researcher Ross Francis told NZPA today that a letter from Mr Barker made it clear the Government would not be establishing an inquiry into the case.

"He agrees with the Justice and Electoral select committee, which in 2005 concluded that a commission of inquiry was unlikely to reach a better view of the facts than was reached at Ellis' trial," Mr Francis said.

The request for a commission was made in January by Ellis' lawyer, Judith Ablett-Kerr QC, to Justice Minister Annette King, who delegated it to Mr Barker.

Ellis was convicted in 1993 of sexually molesting children at the Christchurch Civic Creche where he worked.

One of the seven pre-schoolers he was found guilty of abusing later retracted the allegations and three of Ellis' convictions were quashed.

Fresh doubts about the evidential interviews of children in the case were cast last year in research findings by Otago University academic Professor Harlene Hayne.

She said there was a "strong risk" that the evidence of children who told of sexual abuse by Ellis was contaminated by the way the interviews were carried out.

She urged the courts to consider the case again.

Mr Francis said the flaws in Ellis' trial, the failure of the appeals court to address expert opinion evidence, and Prof Hayne's recent findings raised serious doubts about the safety of Ellis' convictions.

"I believe an inquiry of some description needs to be set up in order to lay the case to rest."

Ms Ablett-Kerr is still working on a petition to take the case to the Privy Council.

If Ellis' case does make it to the Privy Council it may be one of the last New Zealand cases heard there.

The right for New Zealanders to appeal there was abolished from January 1, 2004, with the establishment of the Supreme Court.

But appeals can still be made in cases where the Court of Appeal made its final judgment or decision before that date.

Ellis has always maintained his innocence. He served two-thirds of a 10-year jail sentence.

After his High Court trial and two failed Court of Appeal hearings, a ministerial inquiry conducted by former Chief Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum in 2000 found the interviewing of the children was appropriate and had not been undermined or contaminated by others.

(Seeking comment from counsel for Ellis, Ms Ablett-Kerr)