Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Calm like a bomb

Having read the government's policy announcement on prisoner compensation, I could talk about a number of things. I could talk about its terrible thinness, how it's not so much a policy as a flag to say "see, we're doing something". I could point out that their talk about extracting reparations from those who win lotto or publish books is simply hot air, and how almost anything other than an award from a court judgement can be protected by a few hours with a cheap lawyer. I could talk about the government's dangerous penchant for changing the law and undermining the jurisdiction of the courts to prevent claims against it (as it did over the foreshore, and as it is planning to do here), and how this is grossly unconstitutional. I could point out that by limiting access to the legal system, the government is encouraging prisoners to seek their own justice by other means. I could quote Locke on how excessive and cruel punishments constitute a declaration of war against the punished, and provide a moral justification for violence every bit as valid as that which we would claim against a thief or a murderer, or talk about how the purpose of an organised criminal justice system is not to protect us against criminals, but to protect them from our lust for revenge. But instead I'll say this:

This is a policy founded on spite and vindictiveness. Neither is a proper basis for public policy. It violates article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and section 26 (2) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, all of which ban additional punishment being heaped on a prisoner after conviction. The attempt to deny damages for claims and to limit their filing is at root an attempt to prevent prisoners from suing the crown for mistreatment, violating the right to justice affirmed by section 27 of the BORA, while the attempt to establish an "independent body" to hear claims by victims smacks of stacking the legal deck in their favour (ordinary judges being too likely to pay attention to the concerns mentioned above).

These are not "legal technicalities", they are the very core of what makes us a decent society and distinguishes us from places like China or Burma or Zimbabwe. We abandon them at our peril.

And I'll also say this: those who support human rights should not support Labour. If you believe that justice and human rights apply to all, and not just to some, or that our justice system should not be based on spite and vindictiveness then you should support a party which actually promotes those values - such as the Greens or the Progressive Coalition. As long as Phil Goff is Minister of Justice, Labour is unworthy of our votes.