25 Jan 2014

Watson files against Corrections

9:27 am on 25 January 2014

The legal team representing convicted double-murderer Scott Watson has filed court proceedings against the chief executive of the Corrections Department.

Watson is serving a life sentence at Rolleston Prison near Christchurch for the murder of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope. The pair were last seen boarding a yacht in the Marlborough Sounds in the early hours of 1 January 1998. Watson was jailed the following year.

His legal team said on Friday it had filed the application with the High Court in Christchurch in an attempt to force Corrections chief executive Ray Smith to make a decision about allowing a meeting between Watson and Gerald Hope, the father of Olivia.

Watson's lawyer Pip Hall said both parties wanted the meeting and Corrections had not responded to an application made in early October last year.

Court papers released by Watson's legal team show Corrections has delayed making a decision about any meeting with Mr Hope because Watson wants a journalist to be present. Lawyer Pip Hall told Checkpoint his client has exhausted all of his appeal rights and the media can at least bring his case to the forefront.

"The fact of the matter is a third party ought to be there and the media has an interest, and there is a public interest in the case. There's no reason why the media should not be there."

Mr Hall says the Government could intervene or there could be an inquiry.

Gerald Hope has previously said he wants to sit down with Watson, who he is not totally convinced is guilty as all the evidence is circumstantial.

North and South magazine's senior writer Mike White told Checkpoint both parties have requested that he attend any meeting.

"These meetings can be incredibly highly charged. You've got someone who has been in jail and has professed his innocence for 15 years and meeting the father of one of his victims, supposedly ,and both parties saw that there was value in having someone sort of independent who might be able to afterwards clarify any misconceptions."

The latest court action comes after the Governor-General last year declined an application for Watson to be pardoned, following unsuccessful appeals to the Court of Appeal and the Privy Council.

Corrections says it has been awaiting a decision in a related case about media access, which is now being appealed, so it can't comment further.

Canterbury University law professor Ursula Cheer says Watson's rights of freedom of expression might be outweighed by other factors such as his status as a convicted criminal and the effect on the administration of justice if a meeting is granted.