Thursday, October 13, 2011

Kicking criminals for votes

Back in 2005 the then-Labour government passed the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Act. The law was a response to a prisoner winning compensation for being treated in a cruel, inhuman or degrading manner while in Corrections' custody, and was designed to prevent prisoners from suing for mistreatment in future. In addition to erecting a number of procedural hurdles designed to prevent cases, the law tried to make them pointless by requiring that any compensation awarded be diverted to the prisoner's victims. But apparently this wasn't enough - victims weren't coming forward to claim the money, while some mistreated prisoners were imprisoned for victimless crimes. So, in an effort to get some cheap "tough on crime" headlines in the leadup to the election, National has announced that it will be amending the law to ensure that any residual money goes to the government's victim support fund rather than abused prisoners.

There are a number of problems with this. The most obvious one is that it continues Labour's policy of placing prisoners outside the protection of the law and allowing them to be abused and victimised with impunity by the state. Worse, it creates a perverse financial incentive for such abuse: beat a prisoner, and victims benefit! But it is also contrary to our international human rights obligations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ICCPR and Convention Against Torture all require people to have an effective remedy or explicit compensation for violations of fundamental human rights. In the case of the latter two, that can be enforced by international oversight mechanisms. This law will put us in breach of those obligations and further undermine our international reputation as a defender of human rights.

But since when has National (or Labour) cared about that? There's an election to win, and hate to whip up. And since they can't victimise Maori anymore, they just have to kick criminals instead.