Former prisoner kept in jail too long seeks compensation in High Court test case
A prisoner kept in jail too long wants up to $15,000 damages for the extra 30 days he served.
A Supreme Court decision in September 2016 changed the way the Corrections Department calculated the length of some prison terms.
Shane Arron Gardiner was one of the 23 prisoners immediately affected and was released within a day. Another was released within two days, and 11 the following week.
Gardiner's compensation claim is the first to be heard but Corrections has appealed against a judge's ruling that it was liable to pay anything.
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Gardiner's lawyer Douglas Ewen told a judge in the High Court at Wellington on Tuesday that between $14,000 and $15,000 was "modest" compensation for the extra month in custody.
Gardiner, who was not at court, had been serving a 20-month jail term and should have been released after 10 months, but was not.
Before Gardiner sees a cent of any award, victims of his past offences get a chance to claim against the money, the court heard.
Justice Rachel Dunningham reserved her decision.
Lawyer Daniel Perkins, for the Corrections chief executive, argued that Gardiner was "no stranger" to prisons and the harm to him would have been less than for a "cleanskin" in prison for the first time.
That was not to say that Gardiner was a person of "poor moral fibre" so he was entitled less, he said.
What Gardiner had lost was his liberty, and he regained that. So an extra month, in the context of a 20-month sentence, was not a strong argument for compensation. A declaration alone that he had been falsely imprisoned for 30 days was potent, he said.
Ewen said if Gardiner had been in prison for the first time that would have made it worse, but it was speculation to think that having been there before made it better. Any payout was to compensate Gardiner, not punish Corrections, he said.
The case potentially affects hundreds of past prisoners who were remanded in custody before they were sentenced and had charges laid on different dates.
There were other cases lurking in the background, Ewen said. Those included Michael Marino, whose release date the Supreme Court considered. Marino was in jail 127 days too long.
The Corrections Department said it applied the law as laid down in a 2003 case, which the Supreme Court overturned.
But Ewen said Corrections was on notice there was a problem with calculating some release dates, and did nothing to clarify the issue.
About 500 prisoners had release dates brought forward as a result of the Supreme Court decision.