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Goff welcomes dismissal of prisoner's claim

Goff welcomes dismissal of prisoner's claim

The first Court ruling made under the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Act confirms the legislation will stop prisoners being paid compensation in all but the most exceptional circumstances, Justice Minister Phil Goff said today.

"The Court's rejection of a former prisoner's $40,000 claim for an assault by a prison officer demonstrates that the provisions of the Act work in exactly the way they were intended," Mr Goff said.

"It vindicates the government's judgement that this legislation would be effective in stopping golden handshakes for inmates where disciplinary action against an errant prison officer dealt more effectively with the problem.

"In his judgement, Judge Erber said it was important to keep in mind the purpose of the Act was to 'ensure that the remedy of compensation is reserved for exceptional cases and used only if, and only to the extent that, it is necessary to provide effective redress'.

"He said that under section 13 of the Act, for the compensation claim to succeed, the complainant had to have made 'reasonable use of internal and external complaints procedures which did not provide him with effective redress'. The complainant also had to satisfy the judge that 'there is/was no other effective redress available save that of compensation … I am not satisfied of that'.

"Judge Erber said the Department of Corrections had provided effective redress through a full investigation that resulted in the prison guard being dismissed, and by notifying Police of the alleged assault. However the plaintiff had refused to cooperation with the Police investigation.

"By choosing to seek compensation instead of assisting with a criminal prosecution, the plaintiff had eschewed 'available and likely redress from the criminal courts'.

"Judge Erber went on to say that even if the claim had met the criteria set down in section 13 of the Act, he believed that the provisions of section 14 would have prevented compensation being awarded.

"The Judge said that 'weighing all the matters required to be considered in section 14(2), I am of the opinion that compensation is not required to provide effective redress'. These matters included taking into account the conduct of the plaintiff, and that his threats and provocative conduct had contributed significantly to the assault. In addition, instead of taking steps to mitigate the harm by cooperating with the police, he had refused to help them.

"Today's ruling sends a clear message that under the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Act, prisoners will be denied compensation in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

"The government is also moving to further reduce the prospect of similar claims being brought in the future.

"New prisoner complaint processes have been introduced by the Department of Corrections, and an independent prison complaints body will be in operation by the end of next year. Both these measures will help ensure that prisoners' complaints are dealt with in an appropriate, timely and effective manner," Mr Goff said.

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