Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Christie Marceau's family 'in limbo' waiting for inquest date

Christie Marceau died in her mother's arms after an attack at the family's North Shore home on November 7, 2011.
Christie Marceau died in her mother's arms after an attack at the family's North Shore home on November 7, 2011.

Christie Marceau's family are still waiting for a date to be set for a Coroner's inquest into her brutal death, almost three years after it was promised.

They say the delay is "agonising" and their lives are on hold, every day wondering if they will receive notification that the inquest will finally go ahead.

Since the inquest was announced, a hearing date was scheduled then vacated as it was not a long enough time frame, the presiding Coroner retired and the file was transferred to his colleague and lawyers for some of the parties involved sought to have points of law "addressed".

Meanwhile, the Marceau family wait.

Read more:
'I watched the life drain out of her'
Terrifying last moments at hands of insane killer
Christie's journal tells of her fears
Christie's death: An inquest at last

"Every day our first thought is - 'will we get a notification today? I wonder if we'll hear today?' We live in limbo, make no long-term plans, we can't move forward," Christie's mother Tracey Marceau told the Weekend Herald.

"We have never grieved properly because we know that we still have to reface the trauma of the day Christie was killed at an inquest.

The delays are cruel and have caused us great physical and emotional harm.
Christie Marceau's mother Tracey

Christie, 18, was stabbed repeatedly in her North Shore home by Akshay Chand in November 2011, a month after he was released on bail on charges of kidnapping and assaulting her. She died in her mother's arms.

Despite Christie's pleas and police opposition, Judge David McNaughton bailed Chand.

He ordered the 18-year-old not to contact or go anywhere near Christie or her home and set a 24-hour curfew.

Chand was charged with murder but found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was - and continues to be - detained as a special patient at a forensic mental health facility.

Brian Marceau and Tracey Marceau. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Brian Marceau and Tracey Marceau. Photo / Sarah Ivey

After the teenager's death her family launched Christie's Law, a campaign that pushed for tighter bail laws and an annual review of judges' performance.

In December 2013 Parliament's Law and Order Committee recommended several changes to the bail system but did not go as far as approving the main demands made by the "Christie's Law'' movement.

At about the same time Christie's family were advised that an inquest would be held into her death.

Inquests are not usually held for cases that have been resolved in court.

However Coroner Gary Evans wanted to "investigate the wider circumstances" of Christie's case to see if something could be done to "prevent similar deaths happening again".

It is understood he asked police and the Ministry of Justice for more information around the case including the decision to grant Chand bail.

And, police, the Ministry of Justice, Judge McNaughton and the Marceau family have all engaged their own lawyers to represent them during the process.

Mr and Mrs Marceau believe that if Chand was not released on bail Christie would still be alive. The feel that the justice system failed them and want someone held accountable.

"We were incredibly happy and relieved when they announced the inquest. We felt it would be the opportunity for the failures to be aired publicly," Mrs Marceau said.

What do we want from the inquest? Two words - the truth.
Tracey Marceau

We need accountability from people making these decisions and government departments to face up and have a good look to see if their process is wrong. If it is broken - fix it so no one else loses their gorgeous child like we lost Christie."

A two-day hearing was set for August 2014 and Mr and Mrs Marceau, who now live in Australia, booked flights to return home and attend.

Two weeks before it was set to start, the hearing was postponed.

A Coronial Services spokesman said the first hearing date was vacated because "counsel for some of the parties sought to have points of law related to the coronial investigation addressed prior to inquest".

Coroner Evans retired in 2014, before the case could be progressed. Coroner Greig is now presiding.

The spokesman said there was no indication of when the hearing would be.

There are many factors that can influence how long a coronial case may take, such as case complexity, and whether there are any other investigations or peripheral legal matters that need to be addressed, which is beyond a coroner's control.
Coronial Services spokesman

Justice Minister Amy Adams would not be drawn on the case. Her spokesman said she could not comment on coroners or the inquest process.

Criminal law and justice expert Professor Warren Brookbanks said coronial inquest delays were common in New Zealand.

There are 16 coroners across New Zealand. Professor Brookbanks said in the 2011/12 year 288 inquests were held - 18 for each coroner in one year.

"That gives you some idea of the size of the problem," he said.

"While the Coroners Act does require coroners to perform their duties 'without delay', it's estimated that a coronial hearing may typically take about 400 days to complete.

"If the inquiry is adjourned while some other investigation is undertaken the coronial inquiry could well extend to over 700 days.

"In the circumstances, while a delay of three years is unfortunate, and undoubtedly extremely stressful for the [Marceau] family, with the sheer volume of inquiries coroners are required to undertake, it is not surprising."

Labour justice spokesperson Jacinda Ardern said the delay was "absolutely horrific" for the Marceau family.

"We have been expressing concern for some time around the inability of the Coroner's office to deal with the case load, the huge delays and the harm that it's causing families."

Last month Parliament passed reforms to make the coronial system more efficient and reduce the impact of inquests on families of people who have died.

The reforms aimed to make the coronial system "more responsive" and timely and to ensure inquiries and inquests proceed "without delays".

Mrs Marceau said she was "bitterly disappointed" and frustrated by the coronial process so far.

"It's so frustrating to see other cases that happened long after Christie's be dealt with by the Coroner already," she said.

"Christie deserves to have her story told and for people to be made aware of what went wrong."

Akshay Anand Chand was making a first appearance charged with the murder of Christie Marceau.
Akshay Anand Chand was making a first appearance charged with the murder of Christie Marceau.

Q&A

• What is an inquest?
A legal inquiry into a death. It is a process and not a one-off event. Coroners hold inquests so they can find out more about who the person was, where, when and how they died.

• What is the role of the Coroner?
To establish when, where, how and why the death happened, and also to work out whether anything can be done differently that might prevent similar deaths in the future. If so, they make recommendations.

• When can the Coroner start an inquest?
An inquest is the last official investigation into a person's death. The Coroner cannot begin an inquiry until all other investigations, prosecutions and court cases have concluded.

• What if a case has already been before the courts?
Usually when a case has been resolved in court and a person held responsible for a death, an inquest is not held. But coroners investigating cases that have been before the criminal courts does happen - particularly when a person charged with murder is acquitted or, as in Christie's case, is found not guilty by reason of insanity.

CHRISTIE MARCEAU - TIMELINE TO A TRAGEDY

September 2010: Christie starts working at her local supermarket and alongside Akshay Chand. The pair attended primary school together but were never friends. Christie takes pity on Chand, who expresses a number of emotional issues, and befriends him.

September 6, 2011: Akshay Chand kidnaps and assaults Christie. He is arrested and remanded in custody after his first appearance in the North Shore District Court.

October 5, 2011: Despite pleas from Christie and opposition from police, he is granted bail by Judge David McNaughton. He is ordered not to contact Christie and is placed under 24-hour curfew at his home.

November 7, 2011: Chand leaves his home armed with a knife he had earlier hidden in a backpack. He knocks on the Marceau's front door, pushes past Christie's mother Tracey who answered, and chases the teenager through the house. He catches her on the deck and as she tries to unlatch a gate and escape, Chand stabs her multiple times in the face and head. Christie dies in Tracey's arms minutes later.

October 17, 2012: Chand is found not guilty in the High Court at Auckland of murdering Christie by reason of insanity and an order is made that he be detained indefinitely as a special patient at the Mason Clinic. He is convicted of the kidnap and assault and sentenced to serve three years at the clinic.

2013: Coroner Gary Evans announces an inquest will be held into Christie's death.

2014: Two-day inquest scheduled, but postponed shortly before the August start date.

- NZ Herald

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