Lawyer claims justice under threat if legally blind prisoner fails to get new glasses

A Taranaki lawyer claims his legally blind client's access to justice is under threat because the man can't get his ...
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A Taranaki lawyer claims his legally blind client's access to justice is under threat because the man can't get his broken glasses replaced. (File Photo)

A legally blind man's access to justice is being thwarted because he is struggling to get his broken glasses replaced, his lawyer claims. 

Richard Hotene is being held in custodial remand on a raft of violence and protection order breach charges, to which he has entered not guilty pleas.

During a hearing in the New Plymouth District Court on Thursday, lawyer Julian Hannam said Hotene was legally blind and needed glasses to be able to see properly.  In  New Zealand an individual is considered legally blind when they cannot see at six metres what someone with normal vision can see at 60 metres. 

Hannam said the set Hotene previously had were broken and his client had hit a brick wall in his efforts to get new ones through either the Department of Corrections or Work and Income.

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Hannam told Judge Garry Barkle this presented an "access to justice" issue for his client, which concerned him.

Without the glasses, Hotene was finding it difficult to function in the prison environment or read legal documents, which meant he was not able to give him any instructions regarding his court matters, Hannam said.

In response to written questions, a Corrections spokesperson said it had arranged and paid for an appointment for Hotene to see an optician in Whanganui last week.

"Mr Hotene was given trial contact lenses at the appointment and earlier this week he was provided with a pair of reading glasses by prison medical staff," the statement said.  The optician suggested prescription glasses were needed in Hotene's case.

The cost of prescription glasses for prisoners is paid for by Corrections, which then recovers the money from the inmate.

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Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Gloria Campbell confirmed Hotene was provided with financial assistance for a pair of glasses in 2016.

"The sum provided was more than the normal amount due to his clinical need," Campbell said.

"We have not received any further hardship applications from Mr Hotene.  But it's important to note the law precludes individuals receiving financial assistance while in prison."

Judge Garry Barkle formally acknowledged Hannam's concerns on Hotene's court file.

"There are Bill of Rights issues noted with regards to access to justice," the judge said.

Hotene is due to re-appear in court on October 4 for a bail hearing.

 - Stuff

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