Should the restoration of Peter Ellis’ reputation from beyond the grave have publishers worried and defamation lawyers rubbing their hands in anticipation that a basic tenet of the law had been overturned by Tikanga Māori?
Well, not yet. As things stand, only living people can be defamed, and your reputation dies with you. However, could we be feeling the first winds of change?
Certainly, the New Zealand Herald’s senior political correspondent Audrey Young believes the Supreme Court has opened Pandora’s box. In a highly critical commentary yesterday she accused the Supreme Court of “judicial activism with a capital A” and described the court’s use of tikanga as “audacious”.
She claims the court is rewriting the law on tikanga and pre-empting a Law Commission study, requested by the government, on the role of tikanga in common law (also known as case law or judicial precedent).
Peter Ellis, who was no relation, had his convictions for child molestation at Christchurch’s Civic Creche quashed by the Supreme Court last week. He had died in 2019.
In the 152-page judgement that overturned the case against him, there is no mention of tikanga or his reputation. The findings are limited to the conduct of the case against Ellis and the various appeals that followed his conviction. The judgement is based solely on established legal principles.
Young’s criticism related, in fact, to an earlier decision by the court to allow Ellis’ appeal to continue after his death, in part because a majority of the court accepted that Tikanga Māori should be woven into the fabric of our justice system. Tikanga includes an enduring place for mana that transcends death. Reputation may be seen as a simplified definition of mana. Continue reading “Peter Ellis Appeal: Does reputation extend beyond the grave?”