Law for victims 'breaches rights'

Last updated 08:33 22/02/2013

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

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

Dame Beverley 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, Dame Beverley said.

The unintended consequences of this were a 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 take part in rehabilitation, in prison or on release.

She said those unrehabilitated prisoners were then returned to the community.

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

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

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

In December, Justice Minister Judith Collins said the bill would ensure the system was fair.

"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." Fairfax NZ

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