Lawyer course

Investigation into Crown Law’s role in Alan Hall’s conviction may take months, lawyer says

A leading lawyer predicts an investigation into Crown Law’s role in a serious miscarriage of justice could take months and look into the actions of 10 or more lawyers.

Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Police also launched an internal review after the Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned Alan Hall’s 1985 murder conviction.

Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann said there was either gross incompetence or a deliberate and flawed strategy to secure the conviction.

Criminal Bar Association vice president Adam Simperingham said depending on the outcome, serious charges and jail time were possible if convicted.

Meanwhile, a former journalist who did an investigative podcast on the Alan Hall case said he believed there was a credible suspect in the murder.

“A lot of very compelling evidence points to a specific person or people”

Former Newshub reporter and lawyer Mike Wesley-Smith spoke to many key figures involved in the case – including police and prosecutors from the prosecution team – and did a podcast about his investigation.

The case dates back decades now, but despite that, Wesley-Smith believes there was plenty of evidence that pointed to another suspect.

“Which gives me real hope for any further attempts by the police to reopen the case.

“Sometimes you have these miscarriages of justice cases where there are no other viable suspects, and it leaves a feeling of unfinished business.

“But here I think there’s a lot of very compelling evidence that points to a specific person or people.”

He said he couldn’t imagine what the past 36 years had been like for the Easton family – let alone the past two days.

Arthur Easton was killed during the violent home invasion in Auckland.

Wesley-Smith said the statement the family released yesterday was incredibly meaningful.

“Her clarity and poise were really striking,” Wesley-Smith said.

Stuff reports that the Easton family is “shaken and appalled” by the manner in which the conviction was obtained.

“Our family had placed their trust in the criminal justice system, and it disappointed both families.

“Our hearts go out to Alan, his late mother and his family.”

Wesley-Smith said when he first learned about the case and heard that witness statements had been changed, he was upset.

“It was the evidence of the unfairness of the trial…it was so obvious that I sometimes [had to]… step back and ask myself ‘am I missing something here? What could explain or justify this move by the prosecution?

“And an ending, unfortunately, the worst explanation turned out to be the true one.”

He welcomed the Crown’s decision not to oppose Hall’s final appeal in 2021, and the relative speed at which judgment came this week.

He also said he was surprised and satisfied with the speed with which the police and the Solicitor General announced their investigations.

QC investigation could take six months, cover many lawyers and police

The Solicitor General has asked Nicolette Levy QC to investigate the Crown’s role in the miscarriage of justice – and to investigate all Crown attorneys involved in the case, from the trial until now.

The Solicitor General’s office told RNZ that the terms of reference would be released in “a few weeks”.

But Criminal Bar Association vice president Adam Simperingham said he estimated it would take Levy about six months to do his job.

He said she would have access to all police files and could interview the officers, the team of Crown prosecutors – and write a report.

This could then be used as a basis for referrals for possible prosecution.

Simperingham said there could be around a dozen people Levy should look closely at first.

QC

Nicolette Levy QC has been asked to investigate the Crown’s role in miscarriage of justice in Alan Hall’s overturned murder conviction.
Photo: Nicolette Levy

For a case like this, there could be five or more detectives involved in the initial murder investigation.

There would be many more uniformed agents – though they might not come under Levy’s scrutiny.

Then at least two, maybe four attorneys on the prosecution team.

He said each call could attract new prosecutors to work on the case, and according to staff, it could double the number of people to examine.

There were four calls.

“There would just be a ton of work involved,” Simperingham said.

“And they should probably want everything to be peer reviewed and…you’re dealing with people’s lives and careers and reputations.

“I’d say six months, but she could be faster than that – I’m not too sure.”

He said there was no statute of limitations in New Zealand and age was no barrier to a sane person prosecuting.

He said police and prosecutors work closely on murder cases, but prosecutors decide — what charges to bring, what witnesses to call. An investigation should reveal what police and prosecutors knew – and when.

He said that although the investigation must be completed and assuming there was a case to answer a probable charge, it could be a matter of perverting the course of justice, which was punishable by seven years in prison.

Perverting the course of justice is “doing things in court or out of court that were done with the intention of altering the outcome of a legal proceeding”.

“It’s considered very, very serious by the courts, it’s pretty much the presumption that you would go to jail for committing the crime of perverting the course of justice.

“The victim of the crime is the justice system itself, so it is treated very, very harshly and seriously by the court.”

Simperingham said the case has sparked fear among his peers whether there are more examples of cases with similar issues to Hall’s that have yet to come to light.

He said if the case turned out to have legs, it was possible it could all eventually lead to a royal commission looking into further prosecution.

Simperingham said he believes the prosecution culture has changed over the past few decades, with less of a “win at all costs” approach.