2 Sep 2020

Supreme Court allows Peter Ellis appeal to continue

2:12 pm on 2 September 2020

The Supreme Court has allowed the appeal by Peter Ellis against charges of sexual offending to continue after his death.

A Supreme Court hearing on whether an appeal for the convicted child sex offender, Peter Ellis, should continue after his death based on tikanga Māori.

The Supreme Court hearing in June this year. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

The former Christchurch Civic Creche worker always maintained his innocence after being found guilty of 16 counts of sexual abuse in 1993, and repeatedly sought to overthrow the convictions.

Ellis appealed twice to the Court of Appeal. The first appeal quashed three of the convictions, and the second appeal - against the remaining 13 convictions - was dismissed in 1999.

Ellis died in September last year, two months after his right to appeal those remaining convictions was granted by the Supreme Court.

His counsel, Natalie Coates, argued in the Supreme Court in June that both Māori and Pākehā have mana in death and if the appellant was successful, this would have an impact on his mana and that of his whānau.

The Supreme Court is not providing the reasons for granting the continuation until Ellis's appeal is heard.

Coates told RNZ's Midday Report the decision was still significant.

"This is the first time a substantive criminal appeal has been able to continue in light of the death of a person.

"Now of course we don't know the reason that the Supreme Court have made the decision to allow the appeal and we made a number of different arguments in that respect, including in relation to tikanga, but of course we won't know the specific precedent until the substantive decision is released."

She said tikanga Māori was a "thread" of law that should be drawn upon by the courts where relevant.

She was "optimistic" that when the Supreme Court's reasons for the decision were finally released, those the tikanga arguments would be part of the basis for granting the appeal.

She said all parties would now meet to arrange a hearing date, which she anticipated would not be until next year.

Mataanuku Mahuika from the Māori Law Society said he was reluctant to speculate on the reasons for the Supreme Court decision, as there was a possibility it made the judgement without a reference to tikanga Māori. 

However, that aside, he said it was still significant because the court was allowing an appeal to go ahead even after the appellant has died. 

"The fact that a decision has been made by the Supreme Court sets a precedent - the question is, how wide is that precedent, so this appeal is on a very specific set of facts and so if it does set a precedent, it is likely to be a limited type of precedent."

"It only applies to situations where the appeal has been allowed and what has happened is that between that appeal being allowed and being heard, the appellant has passed away so I'm not sure how many instances there are of that happening - I'd imagine that's not something that's a regular feature of our legal process."


  • Supreme Court hears why appeal of deceased sex offender Peter Ellis should go ahead