Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A fatal compromise?

Human rights are a key plank for the Green party, and the main reason why I support them. They have been the most consistent advocates for human rights this Parliamentary term, standing up for Civil Unions, for Ahmed Zaoui, for prostitution reform and against torturing despotisms. So you can imagine my surprise when I found out that they had agreed to support the excreable Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Bill, which they had previously vigorously opposed. Is this a fatal compromise of their ideals? Not quite. Reading their press release on the matter, it seems entirely justified by the circumstances.

United Future's Marc Alexander had put up a pair of amendments to the bill. The first would have made all compensation awarded to a prisoner payable to Victim Support, effectively removing any possibility of compensation. The second would have barred the courts from awarding financial compensation, and in addition prevented a prisoner from accessing the courts for any redress whatsoever unless they had first "made reasonable use of" existing complaints processes (which the Ministry of Justice has found to be biased and ineffective). This wouldn't just be letting Corrections off the hook - it would be writing them a blank cheque! Worse, it would undermine Habeas Corpus and prevent those detained illegally from seeking their freedom through the courts. Talk about knee-jerk legislation...

United Future had threatened to pull the plug on the bill unless the government voted for these amendments. While I would have liked to see the bill go down in flames, it was more likely that the government would bow to United Future's demands and legislate an even harsher regime than the one it proposed. By stepping in and offering to support the bill, the Greens prevented that. In the process, they managed to gain both an independent prison inspectorate (as recommended by the Ministry of Justice) and a sunset clause on the bill, which is some small consolation.

So, rather than being a fatal compromise of the Greens' ideals, this is an attempt to make the best of a bad deal and prevent our human rights from being undermined even further. It's not good, but at least its not making things any worse than they were going to be anyway...


If the compensated criminal's victim is themselves a criminal (something which is by no means uncommon) do they get the compensation or is it passed on to their victim?

Posted by Rich : 6/01/2005 08:52:00 AM

The latter, though section 8(2) of the bill excludes those who have been charged with or convicted of an offence for the same incident from being classified as "victims".

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/01/2005 10:25:00 AM

So in the following scenario:
Thug A rips Thug B off on a drug deal.
As a result, Thug B beats Thug A up.
Thug A later gets his mates together and gives Thug B a beating in turn.
They are both later convicted.
Thug C (a prison officer) bashes both thugs A&B in jail.
They sue the Prison Service
Thug A has to give his compo to thug B and vice versa.
Annoyed by this, they both give Thug C a good kicking when he makes the mistake of wandering around the jail alone.
Thug C sues the Prison Service for not providing a safe working environment.
His compo is given to his victims, Thugs A & B????

Posted by Rich : 6/01/2005 04:22:00 PM

No. Firstly, Thug C would have to be convicted for the assaults - something Corrections (and the Police, I expect) will fight tooth and nail. And secondly, the bill only allows victims to claim from payouts for breaches of human rights - not from payouts from breaches of employment or OSH legislation.

(Yes, its inconsistent and ad hoc - but did you really expect anything better from this sort of knee-jerk legislation?)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/01/2005 08:12:00 PM

Hey, did I miss something in that Greens press statement? It seems to say that unless the Government actually caved in to United Future, the bill could not have proceeded. (Otherwise why would UF have bothered trying to holdup the Government?) The Greens' choice then could have been between the bill with the inspectorate or no bill at all (surely the better choice). It does depend, though, on whether the Nats and NZFirst were going to vote for the measure - but if so, why did the Government need to turn to the Greens at all? Something in the arithmetic here just looks wrong. Anyone know what was really going down behind the scenes?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/11/2005 10:12:00 AM