Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Minister of injustice

When someone is wrongfully convicted, justice demands that they be compensated. While the New Zealand government refuses to recognise this in law, it does so in practice with a formal system for making "ex gratia" payments to victims of miscarriages of justice. The case is assessed on its merits, and a level of compensation fixed on the basis of the length of imprisonment, loss of livelihood and future earnings, and the degree of police malfeasance which led to the conviction. While IMHO the bar is set too high - the government requires victims to be actually innocent (as assessed on a balance of probabilities), whereas significant harm is still caused if the crown imprisons someone having failed to properly prove their case - there is at least some system for this.

Or at least, there was. Justice Minister Judith Collins has just thrown it out the window in the David Bain case:

The Justice Minister has concerns about the report she received three months ago dealing with David Bain's compensation claim.

Retired Canadian Supreme Court judge Ian Binnie came to New Zealand in July to assess Mr Bain's claim for compensation after his wrongful imprisonment, and Mrs Collins received his report in early September.

Cabinet will ultimately decide whether to pay Mr Bain.

Judith Collins was supposed to release her decision about the claim before Christmas, but Prime Minister John Key told Newstalk ZB this morning that is now unlikely.

"I think it's a recommendation she doesn't agree with, or at least has concerns about."

So, the system now is that you get compensation, unless the Justice Minister decides that it might harm her "tough on crime" image, in which case you are shit out of luck. Its as appalling as it is arbitrary. But its Judith Collins to a "t", isn't it?

(I have no opinion on the actual merits of the Bain case, but he was found not guilty at his retrial, therefore his imprisonment was wrongful, end-of-story. And if Judith Collins can't accept that, it suggests that she has serious problems with our entire system of justice).