Smith / Traynor Government Inquiry

Last updated: 1 October 2015

Government Inquiry into matters relating to Phillip John Smith / Traynor

Update 1 October: Final redacted Inquiry report released.

The Minister of State Services published the final redacted report of the Inquiry on 1 October 2015.  The report was published with a minute issued by the Inquiry to emphasise that the Inquiry expresses no view on Mr Smith's guilt or innocence on the criminal charges he currently faces.

The report has redactions in the following categories of the Official Information Act 1982:

  • to avoid prejudicing fair trial rights (s6(c) Official Information Act 1982)
  • to avoid prejudice to the maintenance of the law (s6(c) Official Information Act 1982)
  • to protect information subject to an obligation of confidence (s9(2)(ba) Official Information Act 1982)
  • to protect privacy (s9(2)(a) Official Information Act 1982).

The Inquiry will not be making any comment on the report.

Establishment of the Inquiry

The Minister of State Services appointed the Hon Dr. John Priestley, CNZM, QC, (Chair) and Mr Simon Murdoch, CNZM, (Member) to conduct an inquiry under the provisions of the Inquiries Act 2013 into various matters surrounding the departure of Phillip John Smith/Traynor from New Zealand on 6 November 2014 whilst he was on temporary release from a prison.

Read the Hon Paula Bennett, Minister of State Services' news release on the Beehive website: Government Inquiry into Smith / Traynor escape established (24 November 2014).

The Inquiry was formally established on 9 December and was authorised to begin hearing evidence from 15 December 2014.

On 4 June 2015 the Responsible Minister extended the Inquiry’s reporting date to 25 August 2015. This extension took into account the number and timing of interviews of key witnesses, a prior commitment of a member of the Inquiry, and the need to ensure due process was followed.

The Inquiry report was delivered to the Hon Paula Bennett, Minister of State Services, on 25 August 2015.

Terms of Reference

The Inquiry's Terms of Reference included a mixture of factual matters (surrounding Mr Smith's November 2014 departure), matters of policy, the performance of various State agencies, and the sharing of information between State agencies. 

Inquiry Members

Hon John Priestley CNZM, QC

The Honourable John Priestley was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1994 and served on the High Court bench from 2000 to 2013.

He was the original chairman of the Deportation Review Authority, chairman of the New Zealand Law Society's family law section, chairman of the Film Censorship Board of Review and deputy chairman of the Refugee Status Appeal Authority.

He was made a Companion of the NZ Order of Merit in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to the judiciary.

Simon Murdoch CNZM

Simon Murdoch was New Zealand's Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade from 2002 to 2009 and was previously New Zealand High Commissioner to Canberra, and Chief Executive of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

In 2010 he conducted a review of New Zealand intelligence agencies, and has served as acting Chief Executive and Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau.

He was made a Companion of the NZ Order of Merit in 2009 for public services.

The Inquiry will be assisted by Counsel, an Auckland Barrister, Mr Simon Mount, who has had previous experience as Counsel assisting Royal Commissions, and Inquiries. 

Inquiry Processes

Relevant statutory agencies and a range of non-government parties were invited to make submissions to the Inquiry. In addition, any person with information concerning the terms of reference was able to express interest in contributing to the Inquiry. The Inquiry received 17 responses to its expressions of interest stage, which closed on 21 January 2015. Predominately responses were received from Government agencies.

The Inquiry designated the following as core participants under s.17 of the Inquiries Act:

  • Ministry of Justice
  • New Zealand Customs Service
  • The Department of Internal Affairs
  • New Zealand Police; and
  • The Department of Corrections. 

The work of the Inquiry was divided into three stages. The first stage was informative. The second stage focused on establishing the facts and the third stage examined policy aspects of the Inquiry, and potential reforms. 

The Inquiry benefited from learning about relevant government systems, policies and operations that existed at the time of Mr Smith's departure from New Zealand in the first stage of its Inquiry. 

The second stage of the Inquiry was a fact-finding phase. The Inquiry interviewed witnesses who had interacted with Mr Smith in prison or were involved in the events relating to his escape. The purpose of this phase was to determine the facts of his escape and the immediate response. A range of witnesses were interviewed from frontline operators to senior managers, including police, corrections officers, and customs and passport officers. 116 people were interviewed by the Inquiry, many more than once.

The final stage considered the legislative and policy aspects of the Inquiry, agencies current reforms and potential future change to address system or performance gaps. This phase proceeded largely by way of written submissions and oral briefings.

Evidence

The inquiry proceeded in accordance with the principle of openness and gave priority to section 15(2)(a) of the Inquiries Act 2013. However, several factors justified and required care. These included several ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions and the fact much evidence traversed matters of border security, law enforcement and operational security in prisons. Some material provided was of a sensitive or private nature, and some material was provided on the basis of confidentiality.

Accordingly, the Inquiry made orders under section 15 of the Inquiries Act restricting access to several categories of information. It is expected that redacted versions of evidence will be available ultimately. Much of the material supplied to the Inquiry will be available directly from the relevant government agencies under the Official Information Act 1982.

Contacts

Enquiries about the report should be directed to the office of the Minister of State Services.

Matters relating to the business of the Inquiry can be addressed by email to commission@ssc.govt.nz.