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Compensation offer accepted

10 October 2006

Compensation offer accepted

Three young Auckland women jailed for a crime they did not commit have accepted compensation ranging between $162,000 and $176,000 each, Justice Minister Mark Burton said today.

Tania Vini, Lucy Akatere and McCushla Fuataha, then teenagers, were convicted in August 1999 for the aggravated robbery of a 16-year-old schoolgirl in Mt Roskill.

They successfully appealed their convictions on the basis that two principal witnesses had retracted their testimony, and were released after spending approximately seven months in jail.

"I am glad that this matter has been resolved and I wish the young women well in the future," Mark Burton said.

"It is of some concern however that the advice received by the young women had the effect of substantially drawing out the time needed to resolve their compensation claim. This is even though it was clear that the level of compensation initially offered was fair and reasonable when assessed alongside Cabinet criteria. This was confirmed by a High Court judgment in 2005 relating to the compensation offer," Mark Burton said.

As is standard practice with cases such as these, a QC was commissioned to assess the young women's eligibility for compensation in accordance with Cabinet criteria. The independent lawyer appointed, Kristy McDonald QC, confirmed that the teenagers were innocent of the charges and recommended that an ex gratia payment be made to compensate them for the loss and suffering incurred because of their wrongful convictions.

In 2003 Ms McDonald QC recommended that compensation of $135,000 be paid to Ms Vini and Ms Akatere for non-pecuniary losses such as loss of liberty, loss of reputation, loss or interruption of family and other personal relationships, and mental and emotional harm. A slightly higher payment of $137,500 was recommended for Ms Fuataha because she received a longer sentence after being identified as the offender who was alleged to have wounded the victim.

In addition to those amounts, Ms McDonald QC recommended reimbursement of reasonable pecuniary losses such as legal and investigator costs incurred as a result of their convictions.

The Government accepted that the three young women were innocent and decided to pay compensation at the level assessed by Ms McDonald QC. The then Justice Minister released a public statement in December 2004 to that effect.

The offer of compensation was not accepted. Nineteen months after the offer was made, counsel for the young women made a challenge to Cabinet’s decision, as to the assessment of compensation, in the High Court.

In December 2005, the Court declined the application for review of the Cabinet decision. The Court held that if Cabinet’s decision was subject to review, which was unlikely, then it should be upheld as fair and reasonable.

The High Court’s conclusion that the Cabinet decision could not be criticised as unreasonable or unfair went only to Cabinet’s offer as to non-pecuniary (or non-financial) losses. The Court did not express any conclusion about the offer as it related to pecuniary (or financial) losses. A recall of the High Court judgment was sought on that basis.

In a further decision dated 1 March 2006, the High Court upheld Ms McDonald’s recommendation as to the basis for calculating the young women’s legal costs. In part, the Court agreed that it was not unreasonable to assess legal costs in accordance with Crown Solicitor Regulations.

With those matters resolved, in June 2006 Ms McDonald QC assessed the quantum of legal and investigator costs payable. Taking into account Ms McDonald’s recommendations, the Justice Minister approved reimbursement of pecuniary losses to Ms Vini in the amount of $41,621.36, and reimbursement to both Ms Akatere and Ms Fuataha in the amount of $27,830.36 each.

Ms Vini, Ms Akatere and Ms Fuataha have now accepted the Government’s offer of compensation for both pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses. Ms Vini will receive $176,621.36, Ms Akatere will receive $162,830.36, and Ms Fuataha will receive $165,330.

The Ministry of Justice received the remaining documentation in support of the young women’s claims from their counsel in late August 2006 and confirmation that they were satisfied with the draft deeds of release on 13 September 2006. The Minister of Justice signed the relevant documents soon after.

All matters relating to the wrongful convictions of Ms Vini, Ms Akatere and Ms Fuataha have now been resolved.

ENDS

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