Crown's Secret Witness "C" Name Suppression Lifted

Arthur Taylor and Richard Francois ask the High Court to lift Mr. C’s permanent name suppression order. After almost 30 years, his identity is finally revealed.

Robert Conchie Harris David Tamihere

1. The Problem with Jailhouse Informants

The number of suspect homicide convictions and potential miscarriages of justice based on self-serving and inherently unreliable police evidence means it's inevitable that the use of "jailhouse informants" will be outlawed in our courts.

The Minister of Justice, Andrew Little, stated that he is "uncomfortable" with the use of jailhouse informants. He believes juries should be told more about an informant who testifies on behalf of the Crown, and precisely what they've been promised in exchange for their testimony.

See television interview with Arthur Taylor in prison.

2. An Assault on the Criminal Justice System

The evidence of jailhouse informants can be very persuasive in a circumstantial case to sheet home the allegations of the prosecution. The act of lying to a jury to secure a conviction for murder and ruining a person’s life when he or she might be innocent is a contemptible crime. It's not necessary to prove the actual impact that an informant's testimony may have on a jury since it would involve a lot of speculation and uncertainty. The real question is the intent of the perjurer, which I argued in this case was a "brazen assault on the foundation of our criminal justice system". The Judge agreed. Taylor v Witness C [2017] NZHC 2610 at para [40]

Given this collection of seriously aggravating features, the initial starting point must be at the high end of the range for perjury offending. In this regard, I agree with Mr Francois, your perjury is a brazen assault on the foundation of our criminal justice system. It also appears to be the worst example of perjury within this jurisdiction.

The defendant decided to appeal his conviction and sentence on indeterminate and unspecified grounds, which could not be supported on the facts or in law.

3. The Court of Appeal Judgment

On 28 September 2018, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appellant’s appeal against his sentence. Harris claimed his perjury sentence of eight years and seven months was "manifestly excessive”. I argued that was ridiculous because the starting point could have been a lot closer to the maximum of 14 years imprisonment. The Court agreed. In the judgment given by Winkelmann J in Harris v Taylor [2018] NZCA 393 para [31] states:

While we accept Whata J’s assessment that Mr Harris’ offending was not in the most serious class of offending under s 109(2), it was, as Mr Francois for Mr Taylor submits, certainly near to that category of case. One of the principles of sentencing is that the Court must impose a sentence near to the maximum penalty for offences near to the most serious cases for which the penalty is prescribed. We have no doubt that Mr Harris’ offending falls into the more serious category of offending under s 109(2). We consider that a nine-year starting point was well within the available range of sentences.

And at para [39]:

We consider that the starting point adopted by the Judge was well within that available to him, and he would have been justified in adopting a higher starting point. Even if the whole of the six-month uplift for offending whilst in prison were taken away, the end sentence imposed could not be described as manifestly excessive".

4. Threats against Counsel by Harris

We can now reveal that Harris has convictions for double murder, sex offences against girls, fraud, escaping from prison, breach of parole, burglary, possession of a pistol, theft and now perjury. But he refuses to accept responsibility for his actions, and points the finger of blame at everyone else.

After his latest stack of convictions, he blames the prosecutor and the lawyers who sealed his fate. He wrote a letter to a member of the prosecution team, Mike Kalaugher. Some of the extracts were subsequently published in the Herald Newspaper. For example, Harris says:

I have the instincts of a hunter and love the chase, but its (sic) the kill that gave me a deep visceral satisfaction.

The letter seeks a meeting with Arthur Taylor, Murray Gibson and myself in the “near future”. He also refers to bringing “ice cream” to the “party”, which is an allusion to his double murder committed in 1983. He was reported in the media at the time describing the killings as"just like having an ice cream".

In early October 2018, the police began an investigation of Harris on allegations of "threatening to kill" a prosecutor, and lawyers Murray Gibson and myself.

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