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Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Bill Not Justice

Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Bill doesn’t do prisoners or victims justice

The Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Bill fails to provide a suitable way to compensate victims of crime or to ensure the safety of prisoners, the Human Rights Commission told the Justice and Electoral Select Committee today.

The Commission’s submission notes that the legislation focuses on limiting access to compensation for prisoners rather than on preventing mistreatment occurring.

Victims of crime should be appropriately compensated, Chief Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan said, but that does not require or justify overriding the minimum human rights standards that prisons must meet.

"In this legislation a victim’s chance for compensation is effectively dependent on his or her abuser being abused in turn. The victim is then reliant on the abused prisoner making a claim for compensation that the prisoner knows they will likely never receive.

"It is important to remember that people do not forfeit their human rights when they are convicted of a criminal offence. Human rights apply to everyone by virtue of their humanity. While human rights may be restricted in certain circumstances they cannot be removed.”

Under New Zealand’s international human rights commitments, in particular, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the State is responsible for ensuring that inmates are treated with humanity and dignity and that an effective remedy is available when violations of these rights occur.

“People are sent to prison as punishment not for punishment. Their punishment is the deprivation of liberty and they should not be subjected to behaviour that would be criminal outside a prison.”

The Commission’s submission concluded that the Bill was arguably in breach of international human rights law. It puts the government at risk of criticism from international human rights treaty bodies and would damage New Zealand’s international human rights reputation.

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