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Independent prison complaints body to be set up

2 June 2005

Independent prison complaints body to be set up

Passage of Prisoners' and Victims Claims Bill will allow for establishment of an independent complaints body

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Establishing an independent prison complaints body will be a major step towards ensuring that in future prisoners are not paid compensation for mistreatment, Associate Justice Minister Rick Barker said today.

Mr Barker said today the complaints body would be established by the end of next year, following passage of the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Bill.

"Passage of the Bill this week ensures that all the cases causing concern to the public are able to be captured. The new complaints body will further reduce the likelihood of future damages claims arising," Mr Barker said.

The Bill introduces statutory guidelines that restrict compensation for inmates to exceptional cases. It assists victims to pursue compensation from offenders by establishing a Victims' Special Claims Tribunal to hear civil claims, and by suspending limitation periods on claims while the offender is in prison.

Two sunset clauses have been introduced to the Bill. The guidelines for judges on the payment of compensation will expire on 30 June 2007, unless renewed prior. This will enable the government to review the guidelines and make any amendments if necessary in the light of their application.

The Claims Tribunal and trust fund procedures will apply in respect of prisoners' claims filed before 1 July 2007. By this time, new prisoner complaint processes will have taken effect, and the likelihood of further claims will recede.

"Most New Zealanders find it abhorrent when prisoners are awarded compensation payments for wrongs they have suffered in prison, while the prisoner has frequently never paid any compensation to their victims for the harm they have themselves inflicted," Mr Barker said.

"The government is convinced that the measures in this Bill are the best way to deal with cases where prisoners may be awarded compensation by the courts.

"All our legal advice confirms that ruling out all possibility of monetary compensation would breach our obligations under international law. No responsible government would willingly do that - it would seriously undermine our international credibility. That view is reinforced by the fact that the UK, Canada, Australia, the United States and most European countries all allow prisoners to be awarded monetary compensation in certain circumstances.

"However all future cases will be subject to the provisions of the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Bill, which will significantly restrict the circumstances in which prisoners can be awarded compensation.

"The Taunoa and four others case, currently before the Court of Appeal, will be subject to the special claims procedure should the court uphold the payments awarded to them. That means the money will be held in trust and victims will be assisted in making claims against it.

"Further cases that have been filed or foreshadowed will be subject to the guidelines on awarding compensation, as well as the special claims procedure.

"The most effective way of stopping prisoners receiving compensation in future is to ensure they have no cause to complain in the first place, however.

"The new Corrections Act and regulations provide for a robust inspection and complaints system that should ensure problems are addressed early and that grounds for compensation claims therefore do not arise. Establishing an independent complaints body will provide additional oversight and assurance.

"This government has done more for victims of crime than any other. The passage of the Victims' Rights Act 2002 was the most significant advance in victims' rights since Labour passed the Victims of Offences Act in 1987.

"We will inquire into the support currently available to victims of serious crime to ensure that recognition of victims' rights continues to be advanced," Mr Barker said.

ENDS

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