Peter Ellis granted leave for new appeal against child sex abuse convictions

The Supreme Court has granted convicted child sex offender Peter Ellis leave for a last ditch appeal against his convictions for sexually abusing seven children at a Christchurch childcare centre in 1991.

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Ellis’ case has been described as the worst miscarriage of justice in New Zealand history. Source: 1 NEWS

Mr Ellis applied to the court for leave to appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal dismissing his appeal against conviction.

He also applied for an extension of time to make this application.

"We consider an extension of time for leave to appeal should be granted. We are also satisfied that the criteria for the granting of leave to appeal are met," the Supreme Court said this afternoon.

The complainants attended the Christchurch Civic Childcare Centre where Mr Ellis was employed. He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in June 1993 and served seven years.

1 NEWS reported last Friday that Peter Ellis has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. 

The Supreme Court recounts in today's decision that on appeal to the Court of Appeal in 1994, the convictions on three of the 16 counts against him were quashed, but Mr Ellis’ appeal was otherwise dismissed.

Applications were made to the Governor-General who referred the remaining 13 convictions back to the Court of Appeal, but the second appeal was also dismissed.

There was then a Ministerial Inquiry in 2001 by Sir Thomas Eichelbaum which concluded there was no risk of a miscarriage of justice. There have been unsuccessful petitions to Parliament for a Royal Commission in 2003, 2008 and 2014. 

Mr Ellis submitted to the Supreme Court that the Court of Appeal in its second decision erred in concluding there was no miscarriage of justice. 

He says the evidential interviews fell far short of best practice, even at the time, and there was a strong possibility of contamination of the evidence.

He also says the jury was not appropriately assisted at trial by the expert witnesses, and unreliable expert evidence was led under the Evidence Act.

He submitted there are compelling reasons to grant an extension of time, saying he has recently changed legal counsel and has only recently received new expert evidence that he submitted presents a compelling case for a miscarriage of justice having occurred.

In an affidavit filed last week, Professor Harlene Hayne, vice chancellor of Otago University, says her involvement with Mr Ellis' case began in 2004 but it was not until 2017 that a more focused analysis of his case began. 

"Her research team spent in excess of 1,000 hours on this analysis," the Supreme Court says in its ruling. 

"She also notes that the first comprehensive study of present day interview standards in New Zealand was only published by Wolfman and others in 2016. This provided a good basis for comparing the complainant interviews admitted in Mr Ellis' trial and the current benchmark of interview practice in New Zealand."

The Crown opposed any leave to appeal and extension of time, saying the 20-year delay since the second Appeal Court decision is inordinate and unexplained. 

It said Mr Ellis has had legal advice available to him throughout this period and at times a grant of legal aid. 

The Crown said the fact that more focus has been brought to bear by Professor Hayne since 2017 does not justify the delay.

The Crown also submitted that any retrial would cause major difficulties given the passage of time.