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Police avoidance "not a good look": lawyer

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 23/05/2016

It's "not a good look" for the Police Commissioner to avoid giving evidence about media coverage of Phillip John Smith's alleged escape to Brazil, the convicted murderer and sex offender's lawyer says.

Smith is awaiting trial over charges of fleeing the country while on temporary release in late 2014.

But his lawyer, Tony Ellis, says the 23 press releases issued by police in the hunt for Mr Smith prejudiced his fair trial rights - and he wants Police Commissioner Mike Bush to take the stand as part of a bid to have the case dropped.

Last year District Court judge David Sharp ruled the Commissioner had to appear, but on Monday, Crown lawyers appealed that decision, saying Mr Bush only had minor part in the media process.

"The involvement of the Commissioner, on its face, is no more than is reported by the media: as observing it's important Mr Smith be returned and thanking the various authorities involved," lawyer David Johnstone said.

But Dr Ellis said Mr Bush not wanting to take the stand brought into question the "appearance of justice" and the case affected "the whole administration of justice in this country".

"It doesn't have a good look," he said.

"It's alarming police managed to issue not three media statements, but 23."

Justice Rebecca Edwards reserved her decision.

In a separate application on Monday, Dr Ellis asked the court to review if it was appropriate Smith was handcuffed during a court hearing last year.

Last week Smith made a legal big to get his prison laundry job back.

Smith is serving a life sentence for the murder of a man whose son he had been abusing in the mid-90s.

He was on temporary release from Spring Hill Prison in Waikato when he allegedly fled to South America using a passport issued under his birth name Phillip Traynor.

He was arrested in Brazil soon after and now faces charges of escaping custody and of false representation in relation to obtaining his passport.

His lawyers have asked for the case to be thrown out because of a police media blitz following his release they argue prejudiced his right to a fair trial.

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