Steven Wallace's family want legal aid to claim damages for his shooting

Steven Wallace, shot by police in May 2000.
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Steven Wallace, shot by police in May 2000.

The family of the man shot dead by police in Waitara in 2000 is trying to get legal aid for a claim of damages under a rarely used section of the Bill of Rights Act.

Steven Wallace was shot by Senior Constable Keith Abbott on April 20, 2000 in the main street of Waitara.

He had broken a number of shop windows and was brandishing a golf club and a baseball bat.

Constable Keith Abbott leaving the Wellington High Court after being found not guilty of the murder of Steven Wallace.
PHIL REID/FAIRFAX

Constable Keith Abbott leaving the Wellington High Court after being found not guilty of the murder of Steven Wallace.

While Wallace was closing in on Abbott, Abbott fired a warning shot and then a fatal shot at Wallace.

He died in hospital a short time later.

Wallace's family later brought a private prosecution against Abbott who was acquitted at a High Court jury trial in Wellington.

An IPCA decision found the shooting was justified.  

Despite nearly 16 years since the incident the family are now claiming at least $200,000 in damages under a unusual section of the Bill of Rights that says there is a right not to be deprived of life "except on such grounds as are established by law and consistent with the principles of fundamental justice".

The Wallace family lawyer Graeme Minchin told Justice Rebecca Ellis on Tuesday that legal aid was initially granted for investigations to be made but was then withdrawn.

A private investigator was to be hired to look into whether Abbott had been drinking that night, as well as his misidentification of Wallace as another man he knew.

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The initial grant of legal aid for a few hours of preparation and a critique of the IPCA report was later withdrawn after it was reconsidered by the Legal Services Commission as having no prospect of success.

Minchin said after the initial grant he had engaged a private investigator and sent an estimate of his costs.

"How do I say there is prospects of success before [investigating]?"

Minchin said the police had lied and the family knew it, leading to a lot of hurt and mistrust.

He showed the judge pictures of Wallace and the man he had been mistaken for, David Toa.

"I say you can't identify this man (Wallace) as this man (Toa) on a well-lit street, unless you are blind drunk."

Legal Services Commission lawyer Lisa Hansen said there had been three investigations already – the trial, the coroner's inquest, and the IPCA report.

She said the issues of whether Abbott had been drinking and his misidentification of Wallace had both been looked at before.

"There is no fresh or compelling evidence that would overcome the trial, coroner's report and the IPCA report."

Hansen said there had to be an end to these matters and the family could not just keep litigating.

The judge reserved her decision.

TIMELINE:

April 30, 2000: Steven Wallace shot on main street of Waitara. Police begin homicide investigation and an investigation on behalf of the former Police Complaints Authority.

June 2000: Police release report by Detective Inspector Pearce recommending that no criminal charges be laid over the shooting.

May 2001: Hamilton Coroner Gordon Matenga opens inquest. Inquest adjourned the following month.

December 2002: Senior Constable Abbott acquitted of murder after a private prosecution by the Wallace family.

July 2003: Coroner re-opens inquest and lawyers for Senior Constable Abbott challenge the decision to re-open the inquest.

April 2005: The High Court rules that the inquest can go ahead.

September 2005: The inquest is re-opened

August 2007: The coroner releases findings. Wallace family asks to be heard before authority finalises its report. The authority starts a new investigation.

March 2009:  Independent Police Conduct Authority finds the shooting justified.

 - Stuff

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