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Newsworthy: Claims by prisoners soar

17 March 2006 - No. 65

Claims by prisoners soar

Prison inmates sued the Corrections Department for $1 million in new claims last year, figures released under the Official Information Act show.

The Prisoners and Victims Claims Act was pushed through Parliament after five inmates were awarded $130,000 in 2004 for harsh treatment in an illegal behaviour-management regime in Auckland Prison

Nearly $400,000 of taxpayers' money was spent in the five months to 30 November defending claims from inmates and staff.

National was opposed to this Bill for a number of reasons and remain opposed to the Act. Whilst it accepts that where the state is a jailer, it has an obligation to protect prisoners and ensure their safe and reasonable treatment, it is quite another thing to provide a statutory regime for prisoners to sue.

Moreover, the legislation goes beyond what New Zealand has accepted as its international obligations. New Zealand is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It signed the Convention on 14 January 1986 and ratified it on 10 December 1989.

New Zealand entered a specific reservation in respect of the right to award compensation to torture victims referred to in Article 14 of the Convention "only at the discretion of the Attorney General".

The regime proposes that damages will be awarded to victims of the successful prisoner claimants. That creates major difficulties and uncertainties. Two illustrations highlight the problems:

- Where there are living victims, how will the damages be apportioned? In the case of the serial rapist offender, will the damages be awarded to each victim equally, will the victim who suffered the most horrendous event receive more money, will the victim for whom the scarring of the event was the most traumatic receive more money?

* Where the victims are unknown or comprise a very large class, how will the damages be apportioned? One such example is the case of the offender who is a drug dealer. He or she may have sold drugs through a middleman to scores of people, how will the class of victim be established? If the class of victim cannot be established, is it appropriate that the offender retain the damages awarded?

- Whilst claims for monetary compensation can never be completely ruled out, such payments should be made on ex gratia basis outside the legal system. Where prison abuse occurs, prisoners' complaints should be dealt with by an effective complaints process and disciplinary action against the jailers who have violated the human rights of the particular prisoner.

Exodus to Australia doubles According to the latest external immigration figures released at the beginning of this month, the net outflow of people to Australia has more than doubled in the past three years.

For the year ending January 2004, New Zealand lost a net 10,221 people to Australia. In 2005 that increased to 15,547, and in the past 12 months (to the end of January), that figure has leapt to 21,439.

We should not be surprised by the trend. The difference in after tax income is growing rapidly between the two countries.

New Zealanders' after-tax incomes are now 33% lower than in Australia. That gap is up from 20% six years ago. The resistance of the present Government to lower income tax rates will only make this trend worse.

In the past three years permanent arrivals from Australia have in general terms remained at about 14,000 a year. What has changed has been the exodus of people across the Tasman.

Every so often comes a great article... Haim Harari, Chair, Davidson Institute of Science Education and an Arab gave a speech in April 2004 on the Arab world. A copy of his speech is at

It would be a disservice to the author to summarize its content but it is concerned with the total dysfunction of the entire Muslim region and identifies four main pillars of "the undeclared World War III":

Those elements are: * Suicide murder

* the use of propaganda

* The funding of terrorist activity

* A contempt for the rule of law The worlds oldest profession I voted against the Prostitution Reform Act in all of its stages primarily because it made prostitution a lifestyle choice for women and encouraged organized crime into prostitution. Those predictions have proven correct with the growth of brothels throughout the country.

The difficulty of regulating such establishments has been well illustrated in the last few days by the decision of the High Court striking down an Auckland City bylaw which sought to control the location of brothels.

Manukau City Council is promoting a local bill to outlaw street prostitution.

Political Quote of the Week "Politics is the skilled use of blunt objects", - Lester Pearson - Prime Minister of Canada 1963-1968.

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