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Locked Down with Jonathan Eaton QC . . Justice, Innocence and That Backhand

Power List member Jonathan Eaton QC spoke about his time in lockdown and the thoughts and thinbgs that occupired him, including his hiring of a tennis ball machine to practice his backhand in order to surprise his “tennis buddies” on his return to the tennis court.

Apart from sorting through 15 years of archived files and handling painting and repair duties on the lifestyle block it was the court system rather than the tennis courts that mainly occupied his time on the three acre lifestyle block on the outskirts of Christchurch that he spent with his wife and three children (24, 22 and 17 – wife’s age omitted). Plus his dog, who is recovering from knee surgery.

“I am really missing my regular paddle-boarding both on Lyttelton Harbour and in the waves at Sumner. Sitting on your paddleboard with a group of mates in the middle of Lyttelton Harbour whilst sorting the world’s problems is a regular part of my normal,” he said.

He also misses the collegiality of his chambers colleagues but like many lawyers and others, enjoys the Zoom catchup, in his case ‘Zoom drinks on Wednesday evening’. Jonathan Eaton practices at Bridgeside Chambers with colleagues including James Rapley QC, Simon Shamy, Fiona Guy Kidd QC and others.

Sorting through the archived files was a major effort, one that had been put off for many years. “During the lockdown I have pulled all those files out, ordered and received brand new storage boxes (an essential item) and am taking a walk down memory lane looking back over the last 15 years or so of closed cases. I even emailed a former client to let them know I had found some car registration papers that had been missing for many years. He was thrilled to receive my email and a scanned copy of those papers.”

The Newshub interview included some key comments on Justice and related issues – key samples –

The Justice system –

“I frequently write an imaginary speech denouncing (without fear of stepping on toes) the shortcomings in the way we prosecute crime in New Zealand. This stems from my frustration that we so often treat social or behavioural issues as a criminal justice problem to avoid asking ourselves the far more difficult and challenging questions about how we change behaviours.”

“In the modern internet age, with information and opinion so freely available, I think there are challenges for the criminal justice process. The research tells us subconscious bias is real.”

The Gwaze Case –

 “I am very proud of having led the defence team in the George Gwaze case. That was a case where the police and prosecutors all accepted the very flawed expert opinion that a loved one had died from a sexual assault and suffocation when in fact there was no crime at all.

“Rather it was a case of a disease with which the local experts simply had insufficient experience to diagnose. It was very much a David and Goliath case – an immigrant defendant and his family up against the extraordinary power and resource of the State. That was a case that cemented my very deep concern regarding the way in which expert evidence is dealt with in criminal justice.

“From start to finish the case took almost a decade (involving an unprecedented two jury trials and two acquittals for murder) and concluded with George attaining New Zealand citizenship and inspiring one of his daughters to become a lawyer.”

George Gwaze’s daughter Tandy Gwaze-Musesengwa works as a litigator with Wiliams McKenzie after a period working for Shine Lawyers.

The Wrongly Jailed –

“Yes, we have innocent people in NZ prisons. How many? I don’t know. In 2006 the late Sir Thomas Thorp researched this question and reported that there might be 20 innocent persons in our prisons. What worries me is that it commonly takes what is called a white knight to take an interest in a wrongful conviction case before it sparks public interest or concern. The newly established Criminal Cases Review Commission will hopefully be the vehicle to identify these cases.”

Netflix Favourites –

“I am a big sports fan but with no sport to watch Netflix has been taking a thrashing. Last week (on the recommendation of Kate Rogers), I watched the recently released Just Mercy, based on a true story of a miscarriage of justice in Alabama, and am now watching The Innocence Files on the recommendation of a legal colleague. It focuses on the establishment of the Innocence Project in America and follows the endeavours to identify and then remedy shocking miscarriages of justice.

“Interestingly the first few episodes focus on gross miscarriages in two cases arising as a consequence of seriously flawed expert opinion in relation to bite-mark identification. 

“These were cases and principles that I had become familiar with when reviewing the ‘expert’ evidence in the Lundy case and that were so live in the Gwaze case. In the documentary, both men were convicted based on an opinion that their own bite-mark matched the bite-mark on a murdered child.”

Source: Newshub

The Eaton Interview on LawFuel

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