UC students on Pora case

By Rick Jordan for the Christchurch Mail

Two Canterbury law students will travel to London in November for convicted murderer Teina Pora’s Privy Council appeal.

The students, whose flights and accommodation will be paid for by the University of Canterbury, are preparing legal opinions for the Pora appeal, which relies on pro-bono work after its legal aid fell short.

Pora was granted parole in March having served more than 20 years for the 1994 rape and murder of Susan Burdett.

The UC students are involved in his case through the law school’s criminal cases review clinic, which has been set up under the university’s new clinical legal studies program.

Dean of law Chris Gallavin said the clinic would help plug a gap in the justice system by investigating miscarriages of justice.

Another two students have been assigned to work on the case of Michael October, who was convicted in 1995 of murdering and raping Anne-Maree Ellens in Christchurch. October was one of a group of inmates who took six Paparoa Prison officers hostage in 1997 to highlight their claims they were innocent.

In the UK, a criminal cases review commission has resulted in the quashing of 361 convictions, but Justice minister Judith Collins has rejected the idea of a review body here, saying the appeal process and royal prerogative of mercy were robust safeguards against miscarriage of justice.

Gallavin said New Zealand courts were limited to determining only legal issues and a review body would be better able to consider miscarriages caused by non-legal issues such as false identifications or failures in scene analysis.

Howard League for Penal Reform Canterbury secretary Jarrod Gilbert said the idea of an innocent person spending time in prison was abhorrent, and the October case was a “particularly troubling case in Christchurch”.

He said a criminal case review body was one way to address miscarriages, but there also needed to be a political will to deal with them.

“It’s politically uncomfortable isn’t it? If people have been in prison for a long time it’s easier to turn a blind eye.”