Alan Hall: Inquiry clears Crown Law of wrongdoing in miscarriage of justice case


2023-05-26 00:49:41

Alan Hall's brothers Greg, Geoff and Robert speak outside the Supreme Court.

Alan Hall’s brothers Greg, Geoff and Robert speak outside the Supreme Court in June 2022.
Photo: RNZ

An independent report has cleared Crown Law of any wrongdoing despite it failing to act on evidence of Alan Hall’s innocence four years ago.

Hall spent nearly two decades in prison, but his murder conviction was quashed by the Supreme Court in June last year.

The court conceded Hall’s 1986 trial was profoundly unfair and constituted a miscarriage of justice.

Evidence was deliberately altered and interviewing was unfair.

It said there was either extreme incompetence or a deliberate, wrongful strategy to achieve a conviction.

The court found the prosecution did not disclose relevant information to the defence, including a witness statement about the ethnicity of a person seen in the area at the time of the the violent 1985 home invasion.

In December last year, Nicolette Levy KC gave her report to Solicitor-General Una Jagose KC, who then referred some matters to police for more investigation.

She did not release the report publicly, saying she did not want to jeopardise any police investigation, but said a redacted version could be eventually be released.

It has been made public on Friday and shows Crown lawyers were given detailed information in 2018 by journalist Michael Wesley-Smith about the alleged (then later ruled) miscarriage of justice in the case.

At the time, the lawyers were aware, the report found, that Hall was being represented by a lawyer and was looking to file another appeal.

A statement from the Solicitor-General said: “Ms Levy KC has found that lawyers at Crown Law did not fail in their responsibilities when they received information about this case between 2018 and 2020.

“Given this, and the history of the case – Mr Hall had already been to the Court of Appeal, and had been unsuccessful in three applications for the Royal Prerogative of Mercy – Ms Levy does not consider Crown Law was in a position at that point to have seen the miscarriage or taken other action.”

The report finds this notion cleared the Crown of having a responsibility to pass on the information or escalate it further.

Levy KC concluded that at that point in time Crown lawyers were not in a position to have identified the miscarriage or taken other action.

Private Investigator Tim McKinnel

Hall family investigator Tim McKinnel.
Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The Hall family’s investigator, Tim McKinnel, said while the family was grateful for the report, they did not believe it was good enough and the Crown should have been forthcoming about the evidence.

“If you are the state agency that is in receipt of information that suggests a miscarriage may have occurred, you should be proactive about that, not passive. And it appears Crown Law were, at best, passive, and in Levy KC’s view, that’s acceptable, but I think the Hall family disagree,” McKinnel said.

The report

The full report was called for by the Solicitor-General following Hall’s quashed conviction last year to ensure public confidence after the miscarriage of justice.

Nicolette Levy KC’s investigation covered all Crown lawyers’ involvement in prosecuting the case – from 1985 until 2022.

It covered both what lawyers did and did not do, which contributed to the miscarriage of justice or a delayed resolution.

The inquiry also looked into any lessons for Crown lawyers from Hall’s case, and whether further action was needed.

The Solicitor-General was yet to decide whether the subsequent report, or a summary of it, would be released to the Hall or Easton families, or the public.

After the report, only publicly released today, was completed, the Solicitor-General asked police to investigate a matter, which was still ongoing.

Alan Hall

After fighting to prove his innocence for 37 years, Hall’s murder conviction was quashed June last year in the Supreme Court.

A panel of judges made the decision after even the Crown admitted there had been a miscarriage of justice.

Hall spent a total of 19 years behind bars for the murder of Arthur Easton – a crime he always maintained he did not commit.

In the nearly four decades Hall and his family spent trying to clear his name, his mother sold the family home to fund his defence and died fighting to prove her son’s innocence.

How the case unfolded

Arthur Easton was fatally stabbed by a bayonet-wielding home intruder in 1985.

Hall was just 23 when he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Easton.

Hall’s lawyer Nick Chisnall told the Supreme Court a starker example of a trial gone wrong would be hard to find.

He told the court that witnesses, including Easton’s teenage sons, had initially described the offender as sturdy, stronger than them and Māori, whereas Hall was 1.7 metres in height, Pākehā and asthmatic.

However, Chisnall said this evidence became vague at trial.

Another witness, Ronald Turner, saw a man fleeing the crime scene and said the man was Māori.

Hall’s lawyer and supporter investigator Tim McKinnel said the prosecution removed any reference to the person being Māori when the evidence was read to the jury at trial.

Hall’s team said this was not disclosed to Hall’s defence at the time meaning it was deprived of relevant information that was key to the case.

Chisnall recounted how police questioned Hall for long periods of time when he was first taken in by police. On one occasion, he was interrogated for 15 hours.

While Hall was not diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder until 2019, Chisnall said police would have recognised that he was vulnerable.

“The police knew in 1985 that he was a vulnerable suspect,” he said.

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