Sex offender’s trial preparation adequate: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has thrown out an appeal from a man convicted on 14 sexual violation and indecent assault charges, who argued he had not been properly instructed by his trial lawyer, John Westgate.

The man, referred to as "Mr C" in the Supreme Court decision, was acquitted at trial on two other similar charges, connected with a trip to Queenstown.

The victim of the abuse was the defendant’s partner’s daughter.

In March, 2018, he was sentenced to 15 years’ jail for the offending, which took place over four and a-half years, of which he must serve at least eight.

The defendant had already unsuccessfully appealed his convictions to the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court decision said Mr C’s initial appeal was based on allegations Mr Westgate did not adequately prepare for his trial, did not follow instructions and did not properly advise the defendant about whether he should give evidence.

While the Court of Appeal accepted the trial preparation was "not a model of its kind", it was satisfied the preparation was "adequate".

Disclosure was sent by Mr Westgate to the defendant more than 12 months before the trial started and in the week prior to the trial beginning there were four meetings between the pair.

Regarding allegations his lawyer did not follow instructions, Mr Westgate’s evidence was that Mr C’s ideas were discussed, a plan of action agreed, and then adopted.

Available notes from pre-trial meetings supported Mr Westgate’s account and the defence at trial "clearly" followed that strategy, culminating in Mr C not choosing to give evidence.

That election was recorded in a note signed by the defendant on the third day of the trial.

The Court of Appeal "seriously doubted the credibility and plausibility" of allegations the defendant made about not being properly advised about giving evidence.

Overall, the court said it was clear Mr Westgate put the "most effective defence" to the complainant and it was left with the jury.

To the Supreme Court, Mr C — through his new lawyer — argued the Court of Appeal looked at the matter from the perspective of trial counsel, not the defendant, who was new to the criminal justice system and "under major pressure" because of that.

It was submitted the four meetings in the week before the trial were insufficient and advice given by Mr Westgate about his right to give evidence was at the "last minute".

He also raised issues about his police interview not being played during the trial, something he said he was only informed of the Saturday before the trial was due to start.

"He apparently mistakenly thought it could and would still have been played by the defence.

"This mistaken assumption could, it is submitted, have affected Mr C’s decision whether or not to give evidence."

However, the Supreme Court found nothing raised suggested the Court of Appeal’s analysis was in error, or there was a risk of a miscarriage of justice.

"The criteria for leave to appeal are not met."

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