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Aspects Of Prisoner Compensation Claims Bill Unnecessary

MEDIA RELEASE – For immediate use, 22 February 2012

Aspects Of Prisoner Compensation Claims Bill Unnecessary

The New Zealand Law Society believes that aspects of a bill restricting prisoners’ ability to obtain compensation for breaches of their human rights are unnecessary.

The Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (Continuation and Reform) Amendment Bill proposes to continue the application of the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act 2005 rather than allowing it to expire on 30 June 2013 as the law currently provides.

The Law Society supports the Government's decision to discharge an earlier Bill, which would have amended the 2005 Act to prevent prisoners from ever receiving compensation awarded to them by the courts for breaches of human rights.

However, the Law Society submitted that the part of the 2005 Act restricting prisoners’ ability to obtain compensation is unnecessary and that the courts should be free to determine when and how to award compensation for breaches of human rights, the Law Society's Human Rights and Privacy Committee Convenor Andrew Butler has told the Justice and Electoral Select Committee.

“Human rights are an important and sensitive area of law. The courts provide an important guardian role against rights abuses by the State. As part of this, the courts should be able to determine the remedies for rights breaches by the State,” Dr Butler said.

“The making of compensation awards creates incentives for the State to cease activities that infringe individuals’ rights. It is important for the separation of powers that the courts are not restricted in this key constitutional role.”

The guiding principles for awarding compensation outlined in the Supreme Court decision Taunoa v Attorney-General in 2007 were not in place when Parliament passed the 2005 Act. The Supreme Court decision adequately addresses issues regarding compensation to prisoners, and it would be better to allow the courts to adapt the law as human rights standards evolve, Dr Butler said.


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