Focus wrong for new victim law - Ombudsman

Last updated 11:58 21/02/2013

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A bill allowing victims to get a chunk of compensation paid to prisoners is "eye-for-an-eye" justice, Ombudsman Beverly Wakem says.

The Prisoners' and Victims' Claims (Continuation and Reform) Amendment Bill will make permanent earlier legislation which allowed victims of crime to seek a share of compensation received by prisoners.

Wakem said the proposed legislation set up the "bizarre" situation where a victim's right to compensation relied on their abuser being victimised later.

"I think that part of the bill is arguably in breach of human rights law," she told Parliament's justice select committee today.

"The victim is then reliant on the abused prisoner making a claim for compensation that the prisoner knows they will likely never receive or only receive in part."

It would be better to focus on a better compensation scheme for victims generally, Wakem said.

The unintended consequences of this were backlash later from abused prisoners, she said.

"It sends a message to prisoners that, really, the justice system in New Zealand is retributive, an eye-for-an-eye, a tooth-for-a-tooth, and I'm on my own mate."

That left little incentive for prisoners to participate in rehabilitation in prisoner or on release.

Then those un-rehabilitated prisoners were returned to the community, Waken said.

She said people sent to jail must forgo their civil rights but not their human rights.

The bill would make permanent the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Act 2005 which will expire in July.

It outlined the circumstances in which prisoners could be awarded compensation for a breach of their human rights, allowed for things like reparation and legal aid to be taken from any compensation and provided  for victims to make claims against that compensation.

In December last  year Justice Minister Judith Collins said the bill would ensure the system was fair and balanced.

"The new bill will make sure victims continue to benefit from the current regime, while also recognising that we must strike a balance between victims' rights and the legitimate claims of prisoners whose human rights have been breached."

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