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Extension of Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act opposed

MEDIA RELEASE – For immediate use, 6 June, 2012

Law Society opposes the proposed extension of Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act 2005

The New Zealand Law Society is opposed to a proposed one-year extension of legislation restricting prisoners’ ability to obtain compensation for breaches of their human rights.

The Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill would extend the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act 2005 for a further year, so that it expires on 30 June 2013, rather than the current expiry date of 30 June 2012.

Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee has released its report on the bill, with the majority recommending that it be passed

In its submission on the Bill to the committee, the Law Society said that if abuse of prisoners’ rights was continuing, this should be addressed by focusing on better management of prisons to avoid human rights breaches.

The Law Society's Human Rights and Privacy Committee Convenor Andrew Butler says the Law Society agrees with the Ministry of Justice that “the best way of preventing future claims arising from breaches of prisoners’ human rights is to ensure that incidents leading to such claims are kept to an absolute minimum.” This appears to be the reason the 2005 Act contained an expiry date: when the Act was passed, the government of the day indicated it would take steps to reduce the abuse of prisoners contrary to human rights, so that the Act would no longer be needed.

The Supreme Court ruling in Taunoa v Attorney-General in 2007 also casts some doubt on whether Subpart 1 of Part 2 of the 2005 Act is now needed at all.

“The legal principles regarding the granting of compensation to prisoners were outlined by the Supreme Court in Taunoa, and those principles address the concerns the 2005 Act was designed to address,” Dr Butler says.

“The Law Society does not support the Bill extending the operation of the 2005 Act, and recommends that the restrictions in Subpart 1 of Part 2 of the 2005 Act should lapse on 30 June 2012 as originally intended.”

The Law Society says it is important that any decisions affecting human rights are made only after a thorough policy analysis. The Law Society believes a thorough Regulatory Impact Statement is needed for this Bill, as well as for the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (Redirecting Prisoner Compensation) Amendment Bill (currently awaiting its first reading in Parliament) that would make the 2005 Act permanent.

Further background for media

• On 5 June 2012 the Justice and Electoral Committee issued its report on the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill.

• The Committee recommended by majority that the Bill be passed.

• The Report also contained the minority views of the Labour Party and of the Green Party.

• Those views repeated some of the Law Society's concerns, and the Green Party also expressed concern about the Bill's human rights implications.


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