The man accused of murdering his wife and abandoning his daughter at a Melbourne railway station has applied for taxpayer funds for a private investigator to research the backgrounds of jurors in his trial.
Police allege Nai Yin Xue, 55, strangled 27-year-old wife An An Liu in Auckland in September, 2007, then stuffed her body in a car boot before flying to Australia and dumping his three-year-old daughter, Qian Xun Xue dubbed Pumpkin by media at the time at a train station.
Xue's murder trial is due to start next month at Auckland's High Court.
Xue's legal team headed by high-profile barrister Chris Comeskey have confirmed an application was filed with the Legal Services Agency (LSA) last Friday for funding to investigate jurors.
Comeskey has employed the services of Verdix Investigations, the first registered New Zealand company specialising in the practice of jury vetting.
While the professional researching of jurors is a common practice in America, it has not been used until now in this country.
If Comeskey's application is approved by the LSA, jury vetting could become commonplace. An estimated 90 percent of all jury trials involve legal-aid funding.
LSA senior communications advisor Bronwyn Bannister told Sunday News: "The application ... you refer to has just been received by the agency and a decision has not yet been made.
"We do not have a specific policy about the granting of aid for jury vetting and are not aware of having granted aid for this in the past. Any application to grant aid for jury vetting would be considered by one of the agency's specialist advisers, who are experienced lawyers."
Verdix Investigations head Stephen Cook said more scrutiny should be applied to the jury-selection process.
Apart from raising serious concerns about the Americanisation of our criminal justice system, the whole lagal aid system seems farcical at times. Sure, those accused of serious crimes are entitled to a comtetent legal defence, but a taxpayer-funded Rolls-Royce defence? We're far, far less sure about that. And it's not as though Nai Yin Xue was a man without means; he was able to purchase return tickets to Australia and a ticket to the USA at very short notice. He was reported as being a "successful businessman" prior to the death of his wife. Should we, the taxpayers, be having to pick up his tab?
It's quite a dilemma. We hope that the Legal Services Agency does NOT set a precedent for Nai Yin Xue, as it could prove to be hugely costly to all of us in the longer term.