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Marc My Words - Ethics Versus Profit

15 October 2004

When it’s ethics versus profit, justice is often the loser.

Recently the issue of compensation for criminals has reared its head, and despite public anger, the solution to the dilemma seems mired in the mud of political correctness.

While undeniably sympathetic to the plight of victims who are rightfully indignant, our Justice Minister does not dare to introduce backdated legislation against those cases where compensation has been awarded, or to draft a Bill that simply prohibits criminals from profiting while serving a sentence. I suspect this is partly due to pressure from the pinker members of his Caucus who cannot bring themselves to accept that justice demands a price that deserves to be paid. Some of these behavioural apologists prefer to run under the cover of treaties advancing the cause of dubious human rights claims in defence of their barmy views on egalitarianism.

Phil Goff even went so far as to say, ”The solution of simply denying compensation to inmates, my first and preferred option, would however be contrary to obligations New Zealand has accepted under International Law…” No one could disagree with his first sentiment, but one might have trouble with the second.

My view is that international agreements should take a back seat to the interests of justice for our own people. Period. I don’t lie awake at night worrying about pieces of signed declarations that, as in this case, go right against commonsense. And before readers achieve that look of an angry fish-wife; the pursed lips, furrowed brow, and steaming indignation in response to what I write, give me a chance to explain this next bit: I think that not all people should be treated equally. There I have said it! Why for example, should criminals profit from their criminal deeds and be treated better than they treated their victims? What compensation do victims have access to? In most cases the answer is a big fat nothing.

Let’s take a look at this current case as an example, and first consider the costs to law abiding taxpayers: five Auckland prison inmates were awarded $130,000 for alleged mistreatment under the provisions of the Bill of Rights Act 1990 – but that’s only the beginning. ___________ __ The external legal costs incurred by the Department of Corrections were $616,938.20 (as at June 2004). The total amount of legal aid paid in relation to these proceedings was $357,961.96 (as at September 2004). The Government is appealing the claims; this I fully support, though it means that costs will escalate even further. Putting that aside, $1,104,900.10 has already been spent. That works out at an average of $220,980 per criminal.

Their lawyer Tony Ellis has filed a claim on behalf of 18 other criminals and has sought permission to represent 175 more. Assuming similar costs and outcomes, that means at least $3,977,640 for eighteen and a whopping $38,671,500 for another 175!

Add it all up and the taxpayer could be stung for $43,754,040.10 and that’s without looking at possible appeals. Compounding all this is that complaints from inmates have been increasing at an alarming rate; from 96 in the year 1998/99 to 147 in 2001/02, 204 in 2002/03, and 226 in 2003/04.

We have to stop this madness! The good news is that apart from the ‘daft sloppyminded entitlement-dispensing loony-liberals’, there is now the political will to do the right thing. It is important to remember is that any real abuses must be investigated, not so that we can throw money at the crims, but to flush out the bad guards. And we have to act now because successful claims for compensation will only encourage these criminals (and their lawyers) at the expense of our commonly held notions of justice.

The very idea that criminals are getting their taxpayer-funded day in Court to claim taxpayer-funded compensation for such things as ‘hurt feelings’, and for being segregated because they pose a genuine threat to the safety of guards and other inmates, can only be seen as a slap in the face for all victims.

These criminals are not in prison because of an accident of fate, but as a consequence of choice. They have demonstrated an antipathy for the laws they now seek to profit from. So here’s the question: why do we assume an obligation and expectation to show them a financial courtesy that they deny their victims?

As I understand it, the approach of our Minister of Justice may well set up a perverse opportunity for some victims to access reparation when the offenders themselves are offended against in prison (and are awarded compensation), while other equally deserving victims are unable to access a cent.

I think that if we do have to compensate criminals then these amounts should be taken from them and given to Victim Support – a result that would benefit ALL victims. It is an ironic and absurd situation when those who most despise the law then use the law to assert their so-called ‘rights’.

Rather than these criminals pursuing rewards that eluded them in the pursuit of their unsuccessful crimes (with appeals to the Bill of Rights), it’s a pity we don’t have a Bill of Responsibilities under which we can make them pay instead of their victims and our taxpayers.


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