Many innocent people languishing in NZ jails says legal group fighting miscarriages of justice

A group of legal experts and private investigators are banding together to take up the cases of convicted criminals who may have been victims of a miscarriage of justice.

New Zealand Public Interest Panel sparked by Teina Poira’s acquittal Source: 1 NEWS

Prison generic Source: 1 NEWS

The move was sparked by Teina Pora's recent successful Privy Council appeal.

Michael October served 11 years in jail for the 1994 rape and murder of Anne-Maree Ellens but he says he didn't do it and there was no DNA evidence linking him to the scene.

"It's the invisble anklet that no one sees that I'm on parole. I've been convicted and charged for murder and rape so, walking around with that, I know that I live with that. I'm just trying to make ends meet and get on with my life," says Mr October.

Now known as Mikaere Okatopa, his case will be the first investigated by the New Zealand Public Interest Panel (NZPIP).

The group believes there could be 20 innocent people languishing in New Zealand jails right now.

"It's very easy to sit in Parliament or at home and say this isn't needed but if you're sitting in a prison cell I suspect you'll have a different point of view," says Jarrod Gilbert from NZPIP.

The panel includes Nigel Hampton QC and Scott Watson's lawyer Kerry Cook as well as Canterbury University Dean of Law Chris Gallavin.

Private investigator Tim McKinnel is also on board. He helped build the case to have Teina Pora's rape and murder convictions quashed.

"That case took almost six years to work through the system, after he's spent more than 20 years in prison. I don't think that's good enough," says Mr McKinnel.

An official review panel has been operating in Britain for nearly 20 years but former Justice Minister Judith Collins wouldn't set one up here. It looks unlikely current Justice Minister Amy Adams will either.

The Minister's office didn't take an opportunity to comment to us today, though Ms Adams has been reported in the past saying: "Self initiated review groups were no substitute for an impartial judicial level review, and their findings carry no weight."

"I would like to think that her or an intelligent Minister of Justice after her, sometime down the track will make us redundant an will set up a proper commission to look at these cases," says Mr Gilbert.

Mr Okatope is welcoming the new panel's support.

"It's hugely important. I think without having that body of professional people that can rally around you on these cause you're at a dead end street unless you won Lotto, so a huge, huge benefit," he says.

See SUNDAY's investigation into this case which unearthed evidence the jury never got to hear