Weatherston legal-aid bill $440,000

Gilbert Elliott.
Gilbert Elliott.
Convicted killer Clayton Weatherston's legal-aid bill has reached more than $440,000, with more invoices expected for his defence costs.

The former University of Otago economics tutor was found guilty of the murder of Sophie Elliott (22) in her Dunedin home on January 9, 2008.

Sophie's father, Gil, told the Otago Daily Times that Weatherston, who is serving a life sentence with a minimum non-parole period of 18 years, "did not deserve that kind of money spent on him".

This week, a Ministry of Justice spokesman confirmed the total amount of legal aid for Weatherston's defence stood at $444,981.

An appeal against conviction was dismissed by the Court of Appeal last year, and he later applied to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal against that dismissal.

The Supreme Court dismissed his application to make a final appeal in September.

The ministry had received and processed invoices for the Court of Appeal proceedings of $44,636.50, while the total amount of legal aid for the High Court trial was $400,344.50.

"We have received and processed a final invoice for the appeal but not for the High Court trial," the spokesman said.

Following the Supreme Court decision to dismiss his application to make a final appeal, the ODT reported Weatherston had received $269,000 in legal aid to that point.

Other than lawyers' time, legal-aid grants can include the cost of expert witnesses, forensic tests, investigators and office costs.

Legal Aid Services director Michele McCreadie said before July 1, 2011, there was no requirement for legal-aid lawyers to invoice within a specific time frame, and "lawyers' invoicing practices varied".

The Legal Services Act 2011 introduced a requirement to invoice for legal-aid services within a specific time frame, which was currently three months, she said.

Mr Elliott said he was unhappy with the amount of legal aid paid in the defence of Weatherston.

"I can't say I am happy or any other taxpayer would be happy, to be perfectly honest . . . it is far too much money and he didn't deserve to have that kind of money spent on him."

On Thursday, Mr Elliott appeared in Wellington before Parliament's justice and electoral committee, which is considering the Victims of Crime Reform Bill.

The Bill, if passed into law, would give victims more freedom in court impact statements, and change the information received during court proceedings.

Mr Elliott said he supported the legislation as a step in the right direction. "But it won't go far enough. It won't help us or anyone else who has been affected, but people in the future will certainly be able to do more than we could."

During his 10 minutes, he spoke of the criminal justice system, and difficulties faced by victims and their families.


Legal aid
• Legal aid is government funding to pay for legal help for people who cannot afford a lawyer.
• It is available for people facing criminal charges, and those with a civil legal problem or private dispute (including family matters) that might go to court, as well as for Waitangi Tribunal proceedings.
• You don't have to be a New Zealand citizen or be living here permanently to be eligible for legal aid.
• You can apply for criminal legal aid as soon as you are charged with an offence or receive a summons to appear in court.
• You might have to repay some or all of your legal aid, depending on how much you earn, and what property you own.

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