The Christchurch Civic Creche Case

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The Press
March 28 2008

Royal inquiry into Ellis case rejected
by Martin van Beynen and NZPA

The Peter Ellis case is now headed for the Privy Council with new evidence after the Government rejected a call for a royal commission of inquiry.

The request for a commission by Ellis's lawyer, Judith Ablett-Kerr QC, was turned down in a letter from Associate Justice Minister Rick Barker last week.

He repeated a 2005 parliamentary justice select committee comment that a commission would be no better placed to deal with the facts of the case than Ellis's High Court trial in 1993.

A spokesman for Barker told The Press yesterday that Barker had decided no commission of inquiry would be held.

Ellis, who was convicted of abusing children in his care at the Christchurch Civic Childcare Centre, said the decision was not surprising.

It would have taken somebody with more political heft than Barker to tell former justice minister Phil Goff and former chief justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum "they got it wrong", he said.

Although the Privy Council now appeared to be his last resort, he hoped the Government's decision would anger the New Zealand legal system and prompt people to say "enough is enough".

"We've had 17 years of this nonsense," Ellis said.

Ablett-Kerr said Barker's response was "superficial" in that he had "brushed aside" her request about "arguably New Zealand's most significant miscarriage of justice", probably without reading the new research she had presented to him.

In her request she had outlined the background to the case and had mentioned three new aspects, including research from Otago University academic Professor Harlene Hayne, who had concluded the children's evidence carried a strong risk of being contaminated by the way the interviews were carried out.

The children were often questioned by their parents and then underwent a series of interviews by specialists working for the then Department of Social Welfare.

Ablett-Kerr said the Privy Council decision in the Bain case suggested the Court of Appeal was wrong in its 1999 decision, declining to evaluate expert evidence she had put before it.

She would now proceed with the petition to the Privy Council. It would include evidence from Hayne.

"At the end of the day, we have to find enough money to get that petition over there," she said.

Lynley Hood, the Dunedin author who wrote a devastating criticism of the case against Ellis in her book, A City Possessed, said Barker's decision was "cavalier".