Solicitor-General asks police to investigate Crown lawyers in Alan Hall case

Hamish Cardwell for RNZ

Following an independent report into the actions of prosecution lawyers in the case which saw Alan Hall wrongly jailed for nearly two decades, the Solicitor-General has referred the matter to the police.

Details of the report by Nicolette Levy KC have not been released.

But the Solicitor-General, Una Jagose KC, considered the findings and decided the matter should be dealt with by the police.

How did we get here?

In June the Supreme Court quashed Hall's conviction for the murder of Arthur Easton, saying 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.

Hall spent nearly two decades behind bars, and the spotlight was now turning on the police and lawyers who helped put him there.

Solicitor-General asks police to investigate whether offences were committed

The Supreme Court decision prompted the Solicitor-General Una Jagose to ask Nicolette Levy KC to look into the actions, or lack of actions, of all Crown lawyers involved in the prosecution from 1985 until 2022.

The Solicitor-General was responsible for the prosecution of serious crime in New Zealand, including appointing and supervising Crown solicitors.

The KC gave her report to Jagose a month ago. Jagose has declined to release the full report saying she did not want to jeopardise any Police investigation.

"Ms Levy has undertaken extensive investigations and followed a thorough process.

"I have taken time to carefully consider her report and I have now referred aspects of the matter to the Police."

Police actions in the prosecution of Hall were also the subject of a number of ongoing internal and external investigations.

Despite that Jagose said: "In New Zealand the Police are the appropriate body to undertake any further investigative work that might be required and decide if any offence may have been committed."

She said the Easton and Hall families have been kept informed since she got Levy's report, and the Crown owes it to them to follow through on the matters it raises.

"I recognise that referring the matter to the police will add more time to an already lengthy process for them but it is an important step to take."

She said it was important for "public trust and confidence in the justice system" that it understands and remedies any failings.

Jagose said a redacted version of the report may be published "when it is appropriate to do so".

The Police and the Independent Police Conduct Authority were conducting their own probes into police actions in the case, with finding expected in the first quarter of next year.

The Hall family responds

The Hall family said in a statement they were grateful to have been given the opportunity to review the report, saying it answers some important questions about what happened to Alan Hall.

"It is gruelling to see some of the detail regarding what is alleged to have occurred, but we are comforted that the truth is finally starting to emerge.

"Our thoughts remain with the Easton family, who must have as many questions as we do about what went wrong, and why."

They said they were grateful for the support Hall has in the community, and that he was enjoying his freedom and was beginning to rebuild his life.

Because of the ongoing inquires into his case they would not be making further comment.

And a decision on compensation for Hall could come in January or February.

What Levy was looking into

Levy was tasked with investigating how it was that crucial witness statements and other disclosures were not given to the defence team, and were never heard during the trial.

Important material about the case, establishing the basis for a miscarriage, was disclosed to Hall in 1988 under the Official Information Act after his unsuccessful appeal.

Levy looked into what knowledge any Crown lawyers had about it.

She also investigated how lawyers handled information given to Crown Law in 2018 and 2020 by Newshub journalist Mike Wesley Smith - who made a podcast about the case.

Mike White of Stuff reported Wesley-Smith gave evidence to Crown Law that raised serious problems with the case, but was rebuffed.

Levy was to gather facts so the Solicitor-General could decide what to do next, and to identify any lessons for Crown lawyers.