Convicted double murderer Scott Watson has won a court battle which could allow him to meet a journalist behind bars and break his 17-year silence.

Watson sought a judicial review in the High Court at Christchurch last month after claiming that the chief executive of Corrections refused to allow him to meet North and South reporter Mike White.

Watson is currently serving a 17-year sentence for the 1998 New Year's Day murders of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope in the Marlborough Sounds. Parole will be considered next month.

His lawyer Kerry Cook claimed any impact on victims was overruled by a possible miscarriage of justice.


Mr Cook told the court that since his arrest, trial and conviction the public had only heard four words from him.

"'Not guilty', and 'you're wrong', following the jury's verdict of guilty," Mr Cook said.

"He now wishes to talk, and my principal submission is that the chief executive of the Department of Corrections unreasonably stopped New Zealanders from having the opportunity to listen."

Watson had gained hope from the cases of David Bain and Teina Pora, Mr Cook said, and he hoped the public would also lend their support to his claims of a miscarriage of justice.

Corrections lawyer Paul Rishworth told the court the chief executive made his decision in line with the law, and balanced many different factors.

"He balanced those interests, he balanced freedom of expression, miscarriage of justice concerns, and made a decision that was his to make," he said.

Justice Rachel Dunningham today released her reserved decision, which found Corrections' stance to have been "unreasonable".

She quashed the Corrections decision to decline permission for White to interview Watson.


While Justice Dunningham said there was "no rational basis for declining a face-to-face interview between Mr White and Mr Watson", there may be conditions, particularly as to the format of the interviews, and controls on the distribution of any recorded materials, that the chief executive of Corrections may wish to impose when revisiting the decision.

Justice Dunningham rejected Corrections' argument that the communication ban was to prevent harm to the victims.

"The chief executive does not identify any reason why his decision to control the mode of communication Mr Watson can have with journalists will achieve the objective of minimising harm to the victims, when the harm identified is the inevitable consequence of Mr Watson's views being conveyed to the media through any mode," she said.

"Accordingly, given the value of the right to freedom of expression, and the importance of freedom as to the manner of its exercise, the chief executive has not demonstrated why the limitation he has placed on Mr Watson's exercise of that right is justified."

North and South journalist Mike White welcomed what he believed was a "pretty clear decision" by the judge.

"But nobody is getting ahead of themselves, given that Corrections has fought pretty hard to prevent Scott from speaking to me," he said today.

After 17 years, Watson - who has always maintained his innocence - has exhausted all avenues of appeal.

White said that to have the last means of professing his innocence, by talking publicly, taken away from him must have been "very frustrating".

"After all this time, wouldn't it be good to finally hear from the person who' s at the centre of this very controversial case which does divide people," White said.

"There are many concerns about the evidence, so anything that helps us get closer to the truth perhaps should be encouraged."

New Zealand should also not be "afraid" of examining potential miscarriages of justice.

"If we want to have confidence in our justice system we should make sure the right person is in jail for the right crimes," he said.

"While some people might say, 'look no, we have to put an end to these things', I think we should value correctness of decision over finality of decision."

Corrections deputy chief executive Vincent Arbuckle said the department will be "reconsidering" Mr White's application to interview Watson in prison following today's ruling.