New Zealand Law Society - New Zealand Public Interest Project

New Zealand Public Interest Project

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Canterbury University sociologist and lecturer Jarrod Gilbert serves as a trustee of the New Zealand Public Interest Project (NZPIP) together with 26 students, Canterbury University's former Law Dean Chris Gallavin, private investigator Tim McKinnel, lawyers Nigel Hampton QC and Kerry Cook, forensic scientist Anna Sandiford, legal expert Duncan Webb, and founder of investigation firm Zavest Glynn Rigby.

Mr Gilbert has done extensive research in the areas of crime and justice, particularly around issues of recidivism. He is the author of Patched: the history of gangs in New Zealand and is currently producing a book on murder. While researching a television documentary, Mr Gilbert met Michael October, a man whose conviction for rape and murder was, he says, a miscarriage of justice. It alerted him to an individual injustice and wider problems within the justice system.

photo of Jarrod Gilbert
Jarrod Gilbert

NZPIP aims to serve people who "fall through the cracks". The organisation was founded on the belief that it is in the highest interest of the New Zealand public to investigate and appeal potential miscarriages of justice wherever possible.

"It's easy to look at data and be aware of similar initiatives overseas but NZPIP really came about because a number people were confronted with examples of miscarriages of justice," Mr Gilbert says.

Very confronting

"When you meet somebody who is in prison for a crime they didn't commit, particularly if it is a serious crime, that is very confronting. And the fact of the matter is there have been many examples of this occurring and the group was formed to play a part in addressing those cases. Often these people aren't well connected or well equipped to tackle the problems they face, and this body will help them do that.

"We see ourselves as a small but important cog in a pretty damn good machine. The New Zealand justice system is very good, particularly at a judicial level – in many ways outstanding. Still, we don't get it right all the time – we know that – and so our job is to help the system correct errors when they occur."

NZPIP is currently investigating the case around Michael October, who was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment along with two others for the 1994 rape and murder of 22-year-old Anne-Maree Ellends in the grounds of Christchurch East School.

"While we investigate the matter, it is probably wise not to say too much but needless to say it is a case that has some extremely concerning elements that bring into question the safety of that conviction – not least of which is the only physical evidence at the scene implicates two people, neither of whom are Mr October and both of whom say he was not involved."

The types of cases NZPIP look at take a very long time to resolve, Mr Gilbert says.

In the meantime, success is measured by working positively and co-operatively with all stakeholders and being seen by all of those involved as making an important contribution.

"I think there is a tendency among some people and groups to protect the status quo even when it's wrong. It would be nice to break that thinking down a little."

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