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Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill — First Reading
[Sitting date: 02 May 2012. Volume:679;Page:1890. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice) : I move, That the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill be now read a first time. I nominate the Justice and Electoral Committee to consider the bill. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the committee reports back to the House finally on or before 11 June 2012 and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting, except during oral questions, during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, and outside the Wellington area during a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 188, 190(a), and 191(1)(b) and (c).
The Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act 2005, passed by the previous Labour Government, ensures that awards of financial compensation are made to prisoners only in extraordinary circumstances where no other remedy is deemed appropriate. Prisoners are required to make use of the many existing complaint mechanisms that are available to them, before they seek compensation through the courts. The financial compensation must be awarded. The Act requires that deductions are made first by the Secretary for Justice to pay legal aid debts, reparation, and earlier orders in favour of victims. The Act then allows victims of the prisoner to claim against the money through a simplified victims’ claims process.
The Act contains two sunset clauses that are due to take effect on 1 July 2012. Sunset clauses are effectively expiry dates for the Act. The first sunset clause provides for the expiry of the restrictions on awards of compensation. The second provides a cut-off date for compensation awarded to prisoners to be subject to the deductions and victims’ claims process. This bill extends the application of the Act for 1 year. The sunset clauses are amended so that they will now take effect on 1 July 2013.
The bill will bridge the gap between the expiry of the current Act and progressing the Government’s policy to redirect prisoner compensation to fund services for victims. The Government’s policy to redirect compensation requires any prisoner compensation remaining after the victims’ claim process is used to fund services and programmes for victims of crime. The existing victims’ claim process will also be made permanent. Legislation to make the Act permanent and to implement the Government’s redirection policy is currently before Parliament. However, there is insufficient time for that legislation to pass through its stages before the imminent expiry of the current regime on 30 June. I also believe that it is important for that redirection bill to be fully considered by a select committee before it is passed. It is important that there is adequate time for all members of the public who want to, to have their say, and for as much cross-party support as possible, and I intend to fully consult with other parties in Parliament as to how that might happen.
If the current Act expires before the redirection bill comes into effect a window of opportunity will be created. It would mean that the restrictions on awards of compensation, the deductions, and the simplified victims’ claims process do not apply to any prisoners’ claims that are lodged. There would be a clear incentive for potential claimants to file their claims during this window to try to defeat the purpose of the current regime and the future redirection regime. The new bill will prevent the unfair window of opportunity from occurring that would disadvantage victims of crime.
To ensure the status quo and the laws governing prisoner compensation it is important that this bill be considered promptly by a select committee and reported back to this House by 11 June 2012 so that it can be in effect by 30 June. The new bill maintains the status quo until we implement our redirection policy later this year. It will ensure that the current restrictions on awards and deductions continue. It will also ensure that victims continue to have access to any financial compensation awarded to prisoners. I commend this bill to the House.
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : I am going to take a short call on the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill to respond to what the Minister of Justice has just told the House. The first thing that it is important to say is that the substantive legislation responded to at least a perceived need at the time. But clearly it was an experimental piece of legislation, and if the House needs any evidence for that, in addition to the speeches that were given at the time concerning what is now the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act, then it simply needs to look at the fact that a sunset clause was applied to that legislation. Clearly the House’s intention was that there would be a review of whether or not the substantive Act had merit, and whether or not it was required to continue past the date of the sunset clause, either in full or with modification, based on experience with the legislation.
Well, it is instructive to look at experience with the legislation. There is a special procedure set out under the Act for victims’ claims in the particular context that this Act deals with. In response to a written question from me, the Minister’s office has indicated that that procedure has been invoked precisely one time—on one occasion since the Act came into force. So it has to be said that the case for the Act has proved to be, despite the apparent need at the time for some sort of measure, somewhat questionable.
I have some sympathy for the position that the Minister is in. Clearly, because there was a sunset clause expressed in the principal Act, it was intended that there should be a review of the Act prior to us getting anywhere near the date that the sunset clause would be triggered, but no review was commissioned by the Government. And I think that I do not need to say anything about what that says about the record of the Minister’s predecessor and his conduct of the portfolio—we are where we are. The review was not commenced and now the sunset clause is about to take effect.
So the question is what ought Parliament to do. There are a couple of alternatives. We could allow the Act to expire and review the situation to which it applies, consider whether or not special legislation is required and apply it, or simply allow the Act to fall into abeyance. Or we could do what the Minister proposes, which is to extend the existing legislation for a period of time and allow the review that should have been commissioned a good year or so ago to now occur.
The Minister has consulted me. She has given me some assurances in writing about the short period of time for which there will be an extension of the legislation. And I have said to her that I agree that the position is such that we ought to allow the legislation to remain in force for a short period of time—that is, another year—and during the course of that year we ought to conduct the review that should have been conducted. That is what I propose. Certainly, members on this side of the House will support that as a course of action.
I am concerned that the Minister feels that it is necessary for this particular piece of procedural legislation to be referred to the Justice and Electoral Committee for a very, very short period of time, and for leave to be sought from the House for the committee to meet at all times except during question time. The committee is capable, I think, of managing its own business without that sort of leave from the House. I see that the chair of the committee is here and I will be interested in his views later in the debate.
But, given that at least the principal Opposition party has signalled to the Government that we will cooperate in respect of this matter, those sorts of expediting resolutions, which, as we know, can be applied in a heavy-handed way and circumvent the freedom of our committee system to conduct itself in the way that it should, are undesirable. I am disappointed that, although the Minister was prepared to consult about a number of issues, she did not see fit to disclose that it was her intention to have the committee directed by the House in the way that she has.
So that is really all I want to say about this legislation. There needs to be a review. That was always the intention of the original Act. It is an indictment on the Government that, notwithstanding it has been in office for over 3 years, the review was not conducted. But it does need to happen now and we will facilitate participation in that review. We think it is an important exercise and we think that it is important to listen to all sides of the debate as to the question of what ought to, if anything, replace the prisoners’ and victims’ claims legislation. Thank you.
TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) : The chairman of the Justice and Electoral Committee is indeed in the House and is delighted to accept Mr Chauvel’s invitation to follow him in this debate. In fact, that seems to be my standard practice. I cannot think of many times when I do not follow Mr Chauvel.
Could I just crave the indulgence of the House for one moment—
Hon Trevor Mallard: Would the member care to rephrase that?
TIM MACINDOE: —no, I am going to move right along—to acknowledge the outstanding Shakespearean performance of Kennedy Graham in the previous debate. It was wonderful to have “Shylock” speaking in the Budget Policy Statement debate, but I find now that I follow “Hamlet” in this particular debate, as he has agonised over the Labour Party’s position on this particular bill that is before the House. The particular bill, the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill, is of course an interim measure and we must not forget that.
National is firmly committed to building a safer New Zealand, and I do want to repeat that because it is an absolutely core priority for our Government. This bill is part of a large measure, a large arsenal of initiatives, to improve public safety and respect for law and order and, indeed, for the rule of law in this country. We are committed to improving the rights of victims and the support that is offered to them, and so we should, for no one chooses to be a victim or to become caught up in our criminal justice system because of the offending of others. So I do look forward to the cooperation of members opposite, as has just been indicated by Mr Chauvel. I appreciate that indication of support, and I look forward to working with him to facilitate the passage of this bill through the business agenda of the Justice and Electoral Committee.
The bill’s purpose is to amend the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act 2005 to extend the restrictions on the awarding of compensation for 1 more year, from 1 July of this year until 30 June 2013, and to ensure that “the victims’ claims process … applies to compensation awarded, or to be paid pursuant to an out-of-court final settlement, in respect of a prisoner’s claim made on or after 1 July [of this year] but before 1 July 2013.” So, as I have said, it is an interim measure, but it is no less important for that. We are, on this side of the House, directing prisoner compensation to victims to put victims at the heart of our criminal justice system.
Victims have to deal with the financial, emotional, and physical effects of crime long after it has been committed. As I mentioned when I spoke in the financial review debate yesterday, this is something that no one chooses—to be in the position of having to endure yet again everything that they suffered as a result of the offending of someone else, often in the most gruesome of circumstances. So we are ensuring that victims are heard, that they get the support that they need, and that they are not brutalised again when the defendants who subjected them to such cruelty are tried. We are making sure that victims get better information and protection when offenders are released back into the community, and how often have we all heard claims of absolute despair and disgust when that principle has not been followed.
At the same time we are modernising court processes to make the justice system safer and more efficient. We are speeding up court cases, reforming legal aid, and improving civil justice. All of these are important initiatives that the public has been calling out for for a long time. We are absolutely convinced that not only do we enjoy a very strong mandate to move in this direction but also the public is demanding it of us. We have got to ensure that we meet those demands, and we are.
We established a victim compensation scheme that imposed, among other things, a $50 offender levy on all offenders, regardless of the crime they commit. We did that in the face of considerable opposition from members opposite. Yet the levy has already, in its first year, collected more than twice the expected target of $2 million. In its first year we paid out, through this levy, $1.64 million in services and entitlements for victims of crime and their families.
The levy has funded 13 different services for victims of serious crime. These services include funeral grants for families of murder victims; increased grants for travel and accommodation and child care assistance for people who are having to go through the justice system; access for sexual violence victims to a trained adviser who has knowledge of the dynamics of sexual violence cases—and these victims need ongoing support, great sensitivity, and understanding—expanded financial help of up to $1,000 for victims attending case-related hearings; and new financial assistance and counselling for those whose family members have been killed through a criminal act that is not homicide, such as dangerous driving causing death. So there is a whole range of initiatives that are very important.
We inherited a criminal justice system that was falling into some disarray. It was lacking accountability, particularly to those who were victims, and it lacked that focus on the needs of victims. So I am very proud to be part of a Government that has delivered, and continues to deliver. I commend this interim measure to the House, as we continue to strengthen our justice system and give it the priorities that all New Zealanders require it to have.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) : I too rise to make a contribution to the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill. My contribution to this debate is probably not on the detail of the legislation, but rather to comment on the regulatory impact statement and how that might impact on our consideration of this at the select committee. The regulatory impact statement was prepared at relatively short notice, according to its cover note. The cover note is dated 28 March 2012, which is actually not very long ago, and I am a little bit concerned about how short a period of time was allowed for this to happen. The comment that is made in the agency disclosure statement states the following: “The Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (Redirecting Prisoner Compensation) Amendment Bill was introduced in Parliament on 13 October 2011 to give effect to the redirection policy, but did not receive a first reading. There is now insufficient time to progress it through its Parliamentary stages before the sunset clauses take effect on 1 July 2012. Due to this, the Ministry of Justice was asked to urgently consider alternative options to maintain the existing provisions of the PVC Act until the redirection policy can be given effect at a later date.”
Of course, the regulatory impact statement does, within its content, refer to defining the problem in terms of how the status quo impacts on the problem definition. I guess the paragraph that I have just read out highlights exactly the problem that the Government is faced with. This is legislation that had sunset provisions built into it, which have now been breached twice. So there have been two amendments to those sunset provisions and one other. I think the debate that I would perhaps like us to have—in another context, and probably across party lines—is about how we best achieve what I think we are trying to achieve on both sides of the House, which is the balance between certainty and the need for review of regulatory regimes.
I think that when the sunset provisions were originally written into the legislation, they may in fact have been too short, and perhaps that is explained by my colleague’s contribution about the almost experimental nature of the regime that was being introduced. But 2 years is a relatively short period of time for something to be implemented, reviewed, and analysed, and for a decision to be made about whether there should be a further extension of the principles that were established at the outset. I think that this is an important discussion that we should have at some stage, because we will continue to face the situation where we are having to extend the expiry date of legislation, or the implementation of sunset provisions, in a position of extremis really, where the deadline is looming and people have no real choice other than to agree to the extension.
That being said, I think that it is important that we deal with this legislation in a timely fashion. I did note within the agency disclosure statement that even though the exact numbers of existing and potential claims by prisoners for compensation were not stated in the regulatory impact statement—and I did notice that they were absent—the reason they are absent from the statement is that the information is defined as legally sensitive. I totally agree with that. I understand that, but would like to receive an assurance from the Government that that information will be made available in secret to members of the committee, because I think it would be useful for us to understand the context in which we are debating this. I note the Minister of Justice is nodding her head; I think it is a matter she would be prepared to take on board and consider. And the reason I raise this is due to the statement in the regulatory impact analysis about the issue around potential behaviour management regime claimants. I guess it had not occurred to me until I read the statement that there were still people who had not lodged their claims as a result of that particular issue, which, of course, was the whole basis for the original legislation.
I think it would help us get a good understanding of some of the technical detail that we do need to understand, but I want to reiterate that I do understand why it is legally sensitive, and I feel that the solution to that would be to provide for secret evidence to the select committee, which would not then become part of the record in this House. I actually agree with the point that is made in the regulatory impact statement—that it is really important that those claims are resolved in the foreseeable future. They were the reason for the original legislation. And to find now that perhaps some of them still have not progressed and that perhaps people are waiting to see whether the regime will be less intrusive or less able to take away some of their outcomes and divert them to the needs of their victims would, I think, be a great shame indeed. And neither side of the House would want to see that as an outcome. So on that basis the Labour Opposition, as clearly articulated by my colleague Charles Chauvel, will be supporting the passage of this bill.
DAVID CLENDON (Green) : Kia ora koutou. The first look at this bill, the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill, brought on a bit of a case of Groundhog Day. This bill, to my count, is something like the fifth or sixth piece of legislation we have seen in recent years with the heading of “Prisoners’ and Victims’ ”, none of which, unfortunately, have really generated better outcomes than we might otherwise have had. We believe that this House is once again devoting its very expensive time and resource to what is essentially, and has been from day one, an ill-conceived piece of legislation. We are now seeking to extend the life of this legislation, despite the quantitative and qualitative evidence that it has done very little good over the intervening 7 or 8 years, and, in fact, has considerable potential to do harm.
The intention of the original piece of legislation was to compensate victims of crimes, to ensure that if the perpetrators of crime came upon a windfall or some return as a result of claims against the Crown, victims would be compensated. I would hazard a guess that the amount of money that has been returned to victims as a result of this legislation is significantly less than the cost associated with the initial primary legislation and the numerous amendments to it. It has been a hopelessly ineffective piece of legislation, and we think it ought to end now.
In the 2010 debate that brought us to this 2012 deadline—which, I remind the House, was conducted under urgency nearly 2 years ago—I asked the then Minister of Justice what actual sums of money had been returned to victims and how many people had directly benefited as a result of the legislation. To his credit, the Minister in the Committee stage gave us the answer and told us that a total of $25,000 had been awarded to victims as reparations. A total of four victims had received a total sum of $38,000 collectively. So, in fact, the first 5 years of this Act returned $65,000 in total—a drop in anybody’s bucket. It has not been effective. That is an extraordinarily small amount of money, and I suspect there has been very little added to it in the 18 months or 2 years just gone by.
The Minister, in her presentation of this bill, stressed the importance of getting this through the House quickly, and gave us, effectively, a deadline at the Justice and Electoral Committee of 11 June. She is concerned that otherwise a window will open that would presumably enable prisoners to enjoy the benefit of any reparations they were paid. I remind the Minister that this bill really kicks in only if prisoners are abused while they are in the care and custody of the State. The easy way to ensure there are no further opportunities for prisoners to benefit, presumably, is to ensure that there is no abuse of prisoners while they are in the custody of the State.
The Greens opposed this legislation—the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Bill, as it was then—prior to 2005 because we saw then it would lead to a reduction in the respect for human rights. We said at the time that it was likely to be ineffectual, and this is now proven to be the case. It had very few redeeming features at the time. We did support the bill. We were persuaded at the time to support the primary legislation that we are seeking to amend. We did that on a promise that there would be a major reassessment, a significant review, a complete overhaul of all legislation, and that some real attention would be paid to assuring victims’ rights and putting in place some structural procedures and elements that would ensure that people who suffer crime—the victims of crimes—are properly compensated and recognised. Sadly, that has not occurred over time; instead we are continuing to perpetuate this piece of legislation. That is a classic example of a Government—in fact, two Governments—pretending to do something, creating the illusion or artifice of doing something positive for victims, but, in fact, doing very little at all.
This is a very convoluted piece of primary legislation. Effectively, the Act denies prisoners the possibility of redress for wrongs done. The only way that victims of crime can benefit through this is if a prisoner or an inmate under the control of the State either has a windfall or, more likely, gets some recompense for their rights being abused. It is a very peculiar and very perverse model, and we would be better to simply remove it from the book. Let us have a little bit of confidence in the Department of Corrections in 2012 that it will not create situations that will enable prisoners to make claims of having been abused that a court would see merit in, and would enable them to have some reparation paid to them.
I recall the genesis of the primary legislation that this bill amends, and the so-called behaviour management regime that was occurring. Inmates were suffering abuse tantamount to torture under the so-called behaviour management regime at Mt Eden Prison. One concedes they were serious high-end offenders. They were not nice people, but the State nevertheless has an absolute responsibility to respect the basic human rights of people who are in custody—even offenders, even prisoners. They remain humans, they remain citizens of this country, and they are entitled to the protection of their human rights. At the time that the primary legislation was passed, a now departed member of this House, to his discredit, referred to payments made under legal claims against the behaviour management regime as effectively a golden handshake for inmates. That is so far from the truth. That set us on this very long-winded path, with multiple amendments, that has brought us to this situation now. This Act has not worked for victims. It has not worked for prisoners. We should simply let it fall, and, as I said, trust the Department of Corrections not to get it wrong.
There are so many things we could be doing to change the corrections regime: the way we deal with offenders, the way we deal with victims, the way we manage our prisons and our prisoners. There is currently a piece of legislation, the Corrections Amendment Bill, before this House that does have some positive features. It does propose some efficiencies in practice and some administrative tweaks to management, but also it unfortunately contains some major steps towards further abuse of human rights and further denials of basic human rights, and it will remove us even further from our national, our legal, and, indeed, our international obligations.
It is worth recalling that when the primary legislation was put in place, it was many of the non-governmental organisations—the organisations dedicated to protecting human rights—that opposed the legislation, perhaps surprisingly. But they saw through it. They understood very well that what was called for was not some grandstanding piece of legislation that appeared to be producing some benefits and some results for victims, but a serious, ground-up, community-led, I would suggest, assessment of what is needed to do the best by the victims of crimes, and, indeed, to look at how best we can ensure that we reduce the number of victims of crime.
It is clear that over the past decade or more there was a struggle between the two main parties. There was a battle and neither was willing to concede an inch. There was this fear of being seen to be soft on crime, allegedly responding to a sense within New Zealand society that we wanted to punish people who offended. Actually, there is very little evidence that New Zealand is a punitive society. There were some TV polls done in 2006 that indicated a preference for community-based sentences. Colin James, who is not known as one of the more wide-eyed, radical, dumb commentators or journalists in New Zealand, commented recently that a number of organisations have perceived a much more broad-based interest in looking for alternatives to prison, looking for alternatives to incarceration, and looking for alternatives to the so-called tough on crime approach. Last night I was pleased to be at the launch of JustSpeak, a group of young people who are committed to doing better, to seeing improvements in our corrections regimes, particularly in our management of victims and our management of offenders.
We can do a great deal better than this. By perpetuating this bill for another 12 months, we are simply perpetuating a failed model, a flawed model—an approach that we know is incredibly expensive at a time when we are stretched financially. It has not worked, it will not work, and the Greens will continue to oppose it. Thank you.
Dr CAM CALDER (National) : It is a great pleasure to rise and take a brief call on the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill. The title of this bill really sums up its purpose.
It was a great pleasure to me to be part of a Government elected in 2008 that has as one of its raisons d’être a concentration on allowing our communities to be safe places. We stress the importance of a citizen being able to live in a state of security, being safe in their community. Where I was campaigning, where I had my office based—Manurewa—we certainly have seen the fruits of that enlightened approach by this Government in the form of Policing Excellence programmes, neighbourhood policing teams, and public safety teams. Also, it has to be said that the crime rate has fallen, but there are still victims. The work that we are doing is to redeploy and refocus our system on the rights of victims. We are focusing the justice system on the rights of victims. We want less bureaucracy, less delay, and a greater focus on victims, and that is what this bill helps to bring about.
The Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act 2005 restricts and guides awards of compensation sought by prisoners under the State’s control or supervision and provides a simplified process for the making and determination of claims that a victim of a prisoner may make against compensation required to be paid to that prisoner. The restrictions on the awarding of compensation expire, and, as we have heard from previous speakers, the victims’ claims process applies only to compensation in respect of claims made before 1 July of this year. This bill will defer that expiry and extend the application for 1 year, so that restrictions on awarding of compensation expire with the close of 30 June 2013. The victims’ claims process also applies to compensation awarded or to be paid pursuant to an out-of-court final settlement, in respect of a prisoner’s claim made on or after 1 July 2012 but before 1 July 2013. In other words, this bill bridges the gap ahead of us here.
It is a bill that focuses, again, relentlessly on supporting our victims. As we heard from our chairman of the Justice and Electoral Committee, there are a number of other areas where we have achieved this end. We have established the victim compensation scheme, and the $50 offender levy on all offenders regardless of the crimes they commit. We supported victims through the Victims of Crime Reform Bill. We have more help for families affected by homicide and more help for sexual violence victims.
This bill is necessary to allow us to review the legislation before the House, as we heard from the Minister of Justice. I appreciate the collegial view of the Opposition in supporting this bill. I commend the bill to the House.
DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) : I will be taking only a very brief call on the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill, on behalf of New Zealand First. I note that the restrictions on the awarding of compensation expire on 1 July 2012, and that this bill simply defers that expiry date to 30 June 2013. To that extent, New Zealand First will have no objection to the passage of this bill, and will support it proceeding. Indeed, as Lianne Dalziel said, we really have very little choice about the matter at this stage, in the circumstances.
So New Zealand First will await with interest the substantive legislation to be brought forward by the Government, which it says will make the existing victims’ claims process permanent. Of course, the devil will be in the detail, and we will look at the substantive legislation in detail when it comes through. I do wonder, as a new member, why there has been such a significant delay by the Government in carrying out this review. Is it because the Government is not really so interested in it, or is it just a low priority for the Government? However, I have listened to the speeches by the Government members, which indicate the opposite, and I hope that is the case.
New Zealand First will be happy to await the review and the new legislation, and to debate it then as though it was a completely new proposal. We will not be affected by the legislation that will expire, or by all the arguments that were made for and against that legislation. Consequently, New Zealand First reserves it position on the substantive bill, when it comes through, and we will be happy to consider the Government’s position.
New Zealand First is not soft on crime, and we will make sure that that is the case in the way that we look at this legislation. At the same time, I personally have some sympathy for the Green position. I too would like to investigate the possible alternatives to imprisonment for some of the people—but not the more serious criminals—we have in prison at the present time. I do think that in the 21st century we ought to have a greater menu of sentences for people who commit crime, and, hopefully, those sentences are much more oriented towards rehabilitation and the avoidance of more crime in the future.
Like the Green Party, New Zealand First will not be supporting any grandstanding on this issue. We hope that we will not hear charges as to who is soft on crime and who is strong on crime. That kind of mindless nonsense needs to be left in the past. As I said, this is the 21st century and being soft or strong on crime is not the issue. The issue is about reducing crime, and doing that requires an approach much more advanced and much more sophisticated than just throwing more and more people in prison and making provisions that are inappropriate.
So New Zealand First will want to make sure that this substantive legislation, when it comes through, is appropriate in restricting claims by prisoners, because there is a case for restricting that. On the other hand, prisoners can also be victims, and their rights must also be protected. So there is a balance to be had there. That is, I think, where the debate should be centred, and that is the way New Zealand First will be looking at it.
What I do not want to hear is what I have just heard from the Opposition benches, which is some mindless, idiotic comment, which will make no positive contribution to the debate whatsoever. So we will listen to good arguments and not those—
Hon Chester Borrows: It’s not the Opposition here.
DENIS O’ROURKE: —from the Government then. We will not listen to arguments from those people who are putting that sort of idea forward. That will not sway us, and I suggest will not sway the members of the public either.
We will be taking an objective approach to this. We will listen to both sides and we will look for that balance, which I spoke of, in the substantive legislation. For the time being we will support this bill, which simply defers the date to 2013.
Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) : I am very pleased to rise to speak to the first reading of the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill. As has been alluded to before, crime affects everyone. It affects communities, it affects families, it affects society, it affects the economy, but, most of all, it affects the victims. That is why it is so important that this bill, as an interim measure, is passed through the House. The toll on victims and families is immeasurable. Victims did not ask to be a victim. They did not wake up that morning and think: “Right, I’m going to be a victim.” It is something that has happened, obviously without any premeditation on their part. They are blameless.
This bill will ensure that prisoners’ compensation will continue to be redirected to support victims over the next year or so, and will allow time for the 2011 bill—the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (Redirecting Prisoner Compensation) Amendment Bill—to pass through the House. Of course, this Government will ensure that that bill is enacted before June 2013. It is important as an interim measure that we have the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill, and it is pleasing that all parties are supporting it at this stage.
We are, as a Government, serious about putting victims at the centre of the justice system. I am really, really proud of what the Government has actually done for victims, and will continue to do. We are determined to build a safer New Zealand for families, for individuals, and for communities. We have a comprehensive programme that we are implementing. In particular, the $50 levy that has been established for all offenders has been very successful in the first year alone. Over $2 million—twice what was expected—has been achieved in the first year. That money has been redirected to new services to support victims. That is what it is all about. More than 2,000 victims, or their families, have benefited from that levy in the first year. There are 13 new services, such as funeral grants for families of murder victims, grants to families of murder victims, more services for victims of sexual violence, expanded financial help for victims attending case-related meetings, and there is new financial assistance for counselling for families whose loved one has been killed not by homicide but by other criminal acts such as dangerous driving.
I am really particularly pleased that the Victims of Crime Reform Bill is before the Justice and Electoral Committee. In that bill more weighting will be given to victim impact statements. The current process, I understand, is that the victim has to ask permission of the judge to read out the victim impact statement. Surprisingly, sometimes that is declined. This bill will ensure that due weighting is given to that victim impact statement. And so it should be. The only limit will be time, but the victim can traverse any subject on how that crime has affected them at any particular level. I think that is an important change, and I am delighted that it is in that bill.
Importantly, there will be more help for victims of sexual violence. Almost 1,300 victims received a discretionary grant to cover immediate costs, and almost 540 victims were assisted by the sexual violence court support service. This is an important bill. It is an interim measure, and it is vital that it is passed. It is pleasing that it has the support of all parties. I commend it to the House.
Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill) : The Labour Party certainly supports this bill, the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill, and can I welcome the measured way in which members have actually contributed to this bill, starting with the Minister of Justice and going through my own colleagues and other colleagues around the House.
I had a lot to do with the initial legislation, and it is important that the House knows why the legislation was initially put into effect. It followed a range of wrongful actions by the Department of Corrections that led, under longstanding New Zealand and international law, to those inmates who had been treated wrongfully getting compensation for the wrongful actions by the State against them. The difficulty with that is that the wrongful action should never have happened. The Department of Corrections was at fault, and the best way of dealing with this problem, of course, is not to have wrongful action against prisoners and, therefore, not to be awarding compensation. But mistakes were made, compensation was awarded, and the nature of many of the people who received compensation was that they actually had done some pretty awful things to other people. I felt, along with a lot of other New Zealanders and members in the House at the time, that if compensation should be given for the wrong done to the inmate in prison, then surely compensation should also be available for the wrong done by that inmate to that inmate’s victims. That was what motivated it. I mean, it was not about baying for blood, David Clendon, with respect; it was trying to address this problem. If you are going to give compensation to the inmate, surely the victims of that inmate are entitled to get their share of that compensation. That sounded right in justice terms to me.
I knew that this would be particularly hard to do, and for that reason, among others, we put a sunset clause into it: let us do this, let us do what we think is right, and let us see how it works. I think the most important comment today was made by my colleague Charles Chauvel, who said that it has been going for 6 years now and only one case has been taken. That suggests to me that our concerns at the beginning of the process that “We think we are doing the right thing, but is this going to be effective? Therefore, we need to review it.”—and there should have been a review. I regret the fact that that review did not take place in a timely way, but I understand now from the Minister that it will take place, and, therefore, it is sensible to continue this legislation until we find out a better way of addressing the problem.
But I said before that I was pleased about the measured way in which this debate was taking place. Let me quote from the debate in 2005: “The National Party in Opposition is opposed to the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Bill. We believe that payments to prisoners should be blocked, stopped, and wiped out. We do not believe that New Zealand should be constrained by the figment of what the United Nations may or may not state in various conventions.” These were conventions that we had respected for 50 years under respective Governments. Who made that comment? Tony Ryall, now our Minister of Health. You know, I have just got to say that the current Minister in Government is taking a different attitude from the then National Opposition spokesperson when National was in Opposition.
I have got to welcome the comments from New Zealand First, from Denis O’Rourke, because this is what your predecessor said, Denis: “The result of the Labour Government’s legislation will be that scumbags, murderers, and vicious criminals on long-term sentences will harass and taunt prison officers purposely to such an extent that if there is even minor retaliation, they will be entitled to compensation.” That was just so much rubbish, and from time to time in this House, people do speak rubbish for the wrong reason. What I welcome today is that we will have a proper debate about this. We will review it. There is a sense of justice that if somebody who has harmed others gets compensation, then that person’s victims should be entitled to compensation. I do not think anybody opposes that principle. The real question that we face in this review is how to find a way in which we can allow that just outcome to occur. It seems to me that if this legislation has been used so seldom, then such a review is necessary. So I welcome the fact that—I welcome the fact that I was told to speak for 2 minutes, and now I have been told to speak for 10!
The background to this, I think, is really important. We want a justice system that treats victims fairly. We want a corrections system where people who have committed even horrible crimes nevertheless are treated under law and according to law, and where their position is not abused, either. I was not prepared as Minister of Justice in 2005, and I am not prepared now, to say that basic human rights conventions passed by the international community should be ignored by this country, which is what the National Party in Opposition was saying then. I mean, it was unthinkable. Not the United States, not Australia, not the United Kingdom, and not any civilised country in the world actually ever said or put into its legislation that people whose rights are abused, even prisoners, should not be entitled to be treated under law and not be entitled to redress when their rights were abused. So I think, and I hope, in the House today, 6 years later, there is a level of maturity and principle that means that that will be accepted as a bottom line.
But let us have a review of how the system works. Let us find out whether it was an aberration that the Department of Corrections was abusing those prisoners’ rights in terms of the requirements on it under law in the way it should treat inmates. You know, I am not soft on inmates, but I do believe that everybody is entitled to humane treatment in this country, even those who have broken the law and have committed horrendous acts. I believe they should be locked up and kept locked up for a long, long time if they are a danger to the community, too, but I do not believe in any system that says that people who are subject to the control of the State can be abused and have no rights of redress against that abuse.
Let us try to do this on a bipartisan basis. Let us not make political capital out of it, as my quotes from the past have suggested. Let us be mature about it. Let us find a system that works for the victims, because the rights of the victim—the rights to reparation—I think, are fundamental. You know, I believe in a system of restorative justice. If your rights are abused by somebody who offends against you, you should be able to get proper compensation from that person. If somebody steals my property, yes, they might need to be locked up if they keep doing it, but actually what I would really like to see is them having to pay compensation for the wrong that they have done, and I apply that right across society. More reparations, a restorative system of justice, would be a very positive development for this country to take.
So, Minister, I hope that the review will be set up early so that there is full time for it to happen thoroughly, that that review will consider the rights of victims, and, indeed, that it will consider the obligations that New Zealand operates under in terms of international conventions. If we can do this without making this House a farce because people are playing silly, populist games, we have got a better chance of getting a good outcome—an outcome fair to victims and an outcome that upholds the rule of law, even when it applies to those in custody.
ALFRED NGARO (National) : I stand and rise to speak on the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill. This bill bridges the gap between the expiry of the current regime, on 30 June 2012, and progressing the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (Redirecting Prisoner Compensation) Amendment Bill through the House.
The issue here is bridging the gap, but the gap that we want to continue to bridge, and I will not labour the point—sorry for the pun, I say to those opposite me—is the gap of confidence in the judicial system to acknowledge and expand the rights and the support for victims. This was no more evident than when we heard the submissions on the Victims of Crime Reform Bill, where stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the judicial system’s response to the needs of victims were heard.
This Government is very clear. We are directing prisoner compensation to victims, to put victims at the heart of our justice system. National is reforming our criminal justice system to put a stronger emphasis on the victims, and, as our colleague has said, we want to ensure that there is a fair and just debate and ensure that, again, victims are compensated in the appropriate way. We are ensuring that victims are heard, that they get the support they need, and that they are not brutalised again when defendants are tried. We are making sure that victims get better information and protection when offenders are released back into the community. At the same time, we are modernising our court process to make the justice system safer and more efficient. We are speeding up those court processes, reforming legal aid, and improving civil justice. Our changes are making justice more responsive to the needs of victims, and helping to build a safer and brighter New Zealand for children, families, and older people.
I just want to finally finish my speech by talking about the support for victims, and especially the Victims of Crime Reform Bill. I am proud to be a part of the Justice and Electoral Committee. Among the things this bill will do—again, this bill is part of a whole raft of support for victims—are setting up a victims’ support centre to improve the information and services that victims receive, and improving the victim notification system. We are changing the way that evidence is heard, to better protect vulnerable children, and providing more help for families affected by homicide. It truly was a sobering moment when we again heard the stories of the families, the victims. With that, it is beholden upon us and our leadership to ensure that we have a fair and just system of debate but to ensure that this process goes through.
Finally, again, this bill will provide help for sexual violence victims and also for victims of serious crime. I stand and rise to support this bill.
I would like to first of all address the mechanics of the primary legislation, which was passed in 2005 under the Hon Phil Goff. As has been said by a number of our speakers from the Labour Party, we will be supporting this bill, because it is a mere extension of some measures that are in the Act that have a sunset clause, and we are extending that sunset clause from 1 July 2012 to 1 July 2013 to ensure that victims of crime will still have the avenue of claiming compensation from inmates who have been mistreated while serving a custodial sentence.
I do agree with Phil Goff—and who would not—who said at the time that the principal legislation was passed that most people believe it is wrong that offenders should be compensated for wrongful treatment but in turn are not required to pay restitution to the victims they harmed. I think, from the tenor of the debate right around the House, most of the MPs in Parliament agree with that. I also agree with, and acknowledge the contributions from, Denis O’Rourke from New Zealand First and the Hon Phil Goff, in that I do think it is time for a relatively mature debate around this issue. From the instances that we heard from Phil Goff, the debate was not so mature, and probably a little political, back in 2005.
So allow me to get a little political. We heard from Tim Macindoe earlier on that this bill was an interim measure, because there is some legislation that hopes to make the measures in the 2005 legislation much more permanent. I need to ask the question why we have not had a review, when it was stated back in 2005 that we were going to have a review, and given the fact that we have to be in the House, using the time of this House and the resources of this House, to bring in an interim measure when something is going to be passed this time next year. One has to wonder why that might be, and one might come to the conclusion that it is because this Government has become slightly sidetracked as of late by various scandals, and has been a little bit mired in controversy.
Darien Fenton: Which one?
KRIS FAAFOI: Which one? If you want me to get specific, I might just talk about why we have not had a review, or why we have not had a permanent solution to what we are doing at the moment. We could mention the Banks scandal, we could mention the mess that ACC is in, or we could mention Dr Nick Smith. But, as I said earlier on, we have to have a mature debate around this. We do hope that over the time that this bill is being debated we could mention those things. But when we go through the stages of this bill we will be able to make sure that there are some solid interim measures, to make sure that if there are people out there who believe they have a claim to some compensation from an inmate—and, as we heard earlier, there was only one case that was discovered by the Green Party in the last maybe 3 or 4 years—we have some measures to ensure that they can get some compensation.
The Act was, obviously, passed under Labour, so that is why we support the bulk of the bill. But, as I said at the beginning of my contribution, we do have some problems as to how we have arrived at this stage of looking for an interim fix, and also why we have not had a review, and also why we do not have a permanent solution.
JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) : Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker. Tēnā koutou e te Whare. As my colleague David Clendon said earlier, the Green Party will not be supporting this bill, the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill, because it extends a sunset clause that was one of the reasons we finally agreed to support the primary legislation in 2005. When the original 2005 legislation, the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act, was introduced, the Green Party strongly opposed it, on the grounds that it violated prisoners’ human rights and removed a mechanism for stopping abuse in prisons, and we think it is important that there is not abuse in prisons. We changed our vote to support it at the third reading to prevent even more harmful amendments that were suggested by United Future, and we were hopeful about the promised establishment of an independent prisons inspectorate, and an inquiry into victims’ rights.
The Greens think it is really important to protect victims’ rights, but this is not the way to do so. We have opposed subsequent amendments, and we will continue to oppose the trajectory of this legislation, because the more worrying fact is that this bill is only a bridging effort until the even more troubling Prisoners and Victims’ Claims (Redirecting Prisoner Compensation) Amendment Bill is implemented. The Government’s own Attorney-General has highlighted that this bill will be a denial of an effective remedy, and is therefore in contradiction to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. Given the Government’s record on passing legislation that is inconsistent with human rights, that is not so surprising, but it is disappointing and inconsistent with the principles of justice.
The 2005 Act, the primary legislation, limits the ability of prisoners to claim compensation for human rights breaches, and provides a process for victims to claim payment from prisoners’ compensation awards. I have some sympathy for what the Hon Phil Goff said earlier; it seems logical. But even in 2005 Victim Support was opposed to the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Bill, and I would like to read from its submission. It said: “That a prisoner should receive compensation for a breach of rights when the victim of that individual’s original offending has had no such acknowledgment or received no redress for the harm they have suffered is repugnant to Victim Support”. However, it did not accept that the bill at the time—now the Act—was a remedy for the situation. It said: “The solution to the situation lies not in lessening the rights of victims of abuse of power to seek redress for harm done,”—in this case it is the prisoners—“but in strengthening the rights and abilities of victims of crime to access restitution or compensation for the harm done to them. Putting it simply, two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Prisoners are subject to the day-to-day exercise of the coercive power of the State. They are therefore incredibly vulnerable to the misuse of that power, and ought to be able to claim compensation when their human rights are breached. By further limiting access to damages for breaches of human rights, it encourages those abuses of power, and it disincentivises prisoners from reporting those abuses, simply hiding the problem away rather than addressing it in a humane and principled fashion. The Government’s plans to deny them a right to an effective remedy in the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (Redirecting Prisoner Compensation) Amendment Bill should be anathema to a country dedicated to the rule of law, where individuals should expect protection from the abuse of State power. The bridging bill may therefore be the lesser of two evils, but that does not make it more intrinsically worthwhile.
The Government should be rethinking its approach and finding principled and practical ways to help victims of crime that do not rely on treading on the human rights of prisoners and victimising them in the process. That is not the way to get people to come into the fold and become constructive citizens. It is not the way to do it, by abusing their human rights. We need to have a serious discussion about how we address these issues in line with respect for human rights, our international commitments, and lasting solutions to our issues with crime and justice.
- Sitting suspended from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.
LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) : I am very proud to take the final call in this first reading debate of the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill, which was brought before the House by Minister Judith Collins. Members of this House and of my electorate will realise that I am a proud supporter of victims’ rights, and I am very pleased to see that the Labour members are also supporting this bill in the first reading. It is an important bill for us to get this extension of the time frame from 1 July 2012 to July 2013. It has been well canvassed, so I do not intend to speak any further, other than to say that I am proud to support this bill.
|Ayes 103||New Zealand National 59; New Zealand Labour 34; New Zealand First 8; ACT New Zealand 1; United Future 1.|
|Noes 17||Green Party 13; Māori Party 3; Mana 1.|
|Bill read a first time.|
- Bill referred to the Justice and Electoral Committee.
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Energy and Resources) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: I move, That the Justice and Electoral Committee report to the House on or before 11 June 2012, and that the committee have authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, and outside the Wellington area during a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 188, 190(a), and 191(1)(b) and (c). The reason why this bill needs to be reported back by the committee by 11 June 2012, which is a period of less than 4 months, is to enable sufficient time for it to be enacted by 30 June 2012 and prevent the current regime lapsing. This is a short, uncomplicated bill, which seeks to maintain the current regime and bridge the gap between the expiry of the current victims’ claims process and progressing the Government’s policy to redirect prisoner compensation to victims of crime. I consider, therefore, that a shortened period for committee consideration is reasonable, and that maintaining the status quo is in the public interest.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) : The Labour Party will be opposing this motion. I think this is a very silly motion and an unnecessary motion. I think it is fair to say that the Labour Party has been working very closely with the Minister of Justice to help the Government get out of a hole that it has got into because of its own disorganisation. Clearly, this matter has been coming up for a long period of time. The Minister has not that unsubtly criticised her predecessor, Simon Power, for not getting the matter sorted earlier. She has been working with Charles Chauvel on this interim regime while there is a review, and I think it is fair to say that over a period of time there is likely to be quite large differentiation in the results of that review. Clearly, the House, even on this part, has a variety of views, but there has been an attempt to work together.
Without wanting to sound like the two big parties ganging up on everyone else, generally when the vast majority of the House is in agreement with something, both within the House and within the select committee process it can be dealt with at a fair speed to get the report back. This motion will make no difference to that. I mean, I am not unaware of a select committee that recently has decided to report a bill back within about 3 weeks of submissions closing, dispensing with a report from departmental officials. The committee thought that was unnecessary, because it knew what it wanted to do, the matter was relatively simple, and it was a matter of just getting on with it within the select committee.
We have had, I think, some quite big changes to our Standing Orders. One of them has allowed us to consider business on Wednesday and Thursday nights and through into the following Thursday and Friday mornings where it is near-unanimous within the Business Committee that that occur. But part of the same group of changes to the Standing Orders was a requirement when bills are going to be at a committee for less than 4 months to have a motion of this sort, which is a debatable motion. I just want to say to the Government that I think it would be wiser in future to do a little bit of consultation around this to seek, as well as an undertaking to support the legislation, a process understanding with as many Opposition parties as it can, and therefore to get things back in a reasonable way, without making it look like legislation is being rammed through.
The problem that we have with this approach is that it looks like the legislation is being rammed through. I think—in fact, I probably am sure—that the Greens have a different point of view, but on this relatively minor extension, albeit of an important law, then I do not think it could be a fair accusation that it is being rammed through, because there is going to be thorough consideration of the issues as part of the report and part of the review, which we will then all look at. We will look the legislation over for the need for it and any changes, whether it should be extended, and whether it should be totally dropped. That is a process that has to be a thorough one and with proper outside consultation, which is just not available, because, as I said when I started this speech, the Government basically took its eye off the ball and we have got to the point where legislation was going to lapse and it was not really sure of the effect of that and whether it wanted to replace it.
Much as I would like to blame the current Minister of Justice—I would like to blame her for lots of things—this is not one of the things that I am prepared to blame Judith Collins for. We are trying to help her get out of the problem. I just say to the Government, to the Acting Leader of the House, and to the Government whips that in future it might be better to consult and to get an agreement, rather than to put a straitjacket around things, force things through, and possibly get unnecessary debate as a result of it.
DAVID CLENDON (Green) : I am pleased to take the opportunity to respond to this motion. I understand that it is only our new Standing Orders that actually enable this process to go ahead. I think there is a general consensus around the House that none of us want to spend time unnecessarily in the Chamber debating issues. The use of extended hours and the cognate bills that we have had through the House are all good processes because they do not deny anybody the right to be heard. They are simply efficiency measures, and those are good things. In this instance, however, we oppose this motion for the very clear reason that there is a substantive issue at stake here.
This bill—the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims (2012 Expiry and Application Dates) Amendment Bill, which has had its first reading tonight—is a very short bill, but it does some quite significant things. The bill was tabled, as I understand, on 2 April, about a month ago. For 3 of those 4 weeks, of course, this House has been in adjournment. I happened to be at a meeting at lunchtime. It was a gathering of NGOs, civil societies, people representing Government agencies, and members of the public, all of them with a significant interest in corrections and human rights, among other things, but specifically corrections. I mentioned this bill in passing to that group. None of them was aware that it was being debated in the House tonight, which is an indicator to me. Clearly, we want to engage with the public. I am not suggesting for a moment that any party in the House does not believe in the importance of public engagement or civil engagement, in the business, in the bills going through. In this instance, it will come as a complete surprise to people with a vital interest in issues around prisoners’ rights, around victims’ rights, and about the way we manage our corrections sector; it will be a surprise to those people that this bill is to be debated, and that they have until 11 June—that is about 6 weeks, if that, from tonight—to try to get some sort of sensible position, to understand what is at stake, and to make a point to this bill.
I might be less concerned about this foreshortened process if I felt that there was to be a comprehensive review, but I am not convinced there will be. Already, in the regulatory impact statement that accompanies this bill, we see reference to the Government’s redirection policy. It is absolutely clear that the Government is set on embedding permanently the legislation that tonight it is seeking to—
Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: I can anticipate the point of order. I was just about to rise to my feet. This is a very narrow debate. It is about the curtailment of the times of sitting or the change around that. We are not debating what is actually in the bill. So the member can continue, but he cannot debate the content of the bill. It is about the procedural motion.
DAVID CLENDON: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for that guidance. Indeed, it is very much about process. It is about the participatory process, and it is about basic democratic procedure. We must allow the public, NGOs, and people with an interest in these matters to participate. After all, all of us want the public to participate in parliamentary processes, and clearly the select committee process is a primary avenue for people to do that. People need time to prepare their submissions, to think about what they want to say to the select committee, to gather their information, and, conceivably, to talk to members of Parliament about this process. Truncating this process may be acceptable—and certainly I do not suggest tonight for a moment that the Greens would always oppose a truncated select committee process—but in this instance we do believe that there are issues at stake that the select committee ought to and, indeed, needs to hear from members of the public. We are very reluctant to see members of the public, NGOs, and so on denied a reasonable amount of time.
It may well be, in fact, that the Justice and Electoral Committee collectively decides that it can progress this bill through the select committee process quite promptly, and have it back into the House for a second reading reasonably swiftly. That decision should be made by the committee, given an appropriate process within that committee. It should not be made tonight by the will of the Minister or the Government, and so we will oppose this motion.
|Ayes 72||New Zealand National 59; New Zealand First 8; Māori Party 3; ACT New Zealand 1; United Future 1.|
|Noes 48||New Zealand Labour 34; Green Party 13; Mana 1.|
|Motion agreed to.|