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Breeding quangos for slaughter: the Victims’ Special Claims Tribunal

  • June 3rd, 2005

In the late 1980s Sir Geoffrey Palmer went hunting quasi-autonomous national government organisations. He killed many. Some were useless, some valuable. Some of their carcasses spawned dragon’s teeth offspring more numerous and more expensive than their parents.

I have sometimes wondered whether our full-time Law Commission is one of those. It replaced Law Reform Committees made up of respected academics and practitioners, serviced by dedicated Justice Department officials. That blend of practical experience, academic reflection, and government policy input produced slow but widely supported reform.

I was reminded of this in my Parliamentary committees’ discussion last week with the Australian Attorney General, and separately the chairman of the Australian Law Commission. They seemed to favour for South Australia, which does not have any full-time law reform body, the Tasmanian model. That is an institute providing a full-time secretariat, and drawing for part-time help on academics and practitioners in their relevant fields.

This of course parallels the structure of the American Law Institute, which produces the widely influential Restatements of law that strongly influence state and federal legislatures.

Another quango was established yesterday when the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Bill passed. It establishes Victims’ Special Claims Tribunals. Each Tribunal consists of a District Court Judge drawn from a panel designated by the Chief D. C. J. They are to oversee funds sequestered from payouts to prisoners who’ve claimed in tort or for breaches of their human rights. The Tribunals will decide, generally on the papers, whether victims get first claim against the funds.

A crime victim is more likely to win Lotto than money from these funds. First, the new law does not relax the ACC scheme prohibition against personal injury litigation. It creates no new grounds of claim. It merely suspends limitation periods for exemplary damages actions etc while the prisoner is in prison. Secondly, there are few prisoner payouts. Most payments are small, arising from miscalculation of release dates.

The United Future minority view in the select committee’s report shows they understood the result clearly “… the Bill has not achieved its overall intention to prevent one more cent of taxpayer money from reaching the pocket of prison inmates…”. Nevertheless they voted loyally with Labour for the Bill to proceed at the select committee stage. United Future was rescued from ignominy yesterday by the seething anger of their law and order man, Marc Alexander, who ensured they voted against the Bill.

In contrast the Greens opposed the Bill up until yesterday, when they were persuaded to support it by the government’s concession of a sunset clause. The right to initiate claims, but not, it seems, the existence of the Tribunals, will expire in two years time.

This farce offers some truly stunning delights for quango connoisseurs.

First, Dr Cullen’s budget discloses that the Tribunals will cost $534,000 to set up, and $379,000 a year after that. The government could have saved money by simply promising automatically to match payments to an offender with payments to his victims. Figures released for the last 10 years show the total abuse claim payouts, including legal costs, at less than $1m.

The six year total to November 2001 was $566, 000, including approximately $325,000 in September 2000 as a pre trial settlement with Mongrel Mob associates, Raheke, TeHei, Ratima, and Gillies. Until September 2004, when Taunoa and co got $130,000 plus $358,000 in costs, the only other disclosed compensation was of the $1200 to Macmillan, for his injured feelings when part of an angry letter from the father of one of his female victims was withheld.

Spending an average $417,750 per year over the next four years, on a quango to distribute an average of $69,720 per year to crime victims, in the unlikely event that any qualify, must win this month’s prize for a Labour lunacy sighting.

Think of the other uses for the money. Garth McVicar’s Sensible Sentencing Trust does more every day for victims than the Tribunals will do in a year. Yet he may have to shut up shop because he cannot keep funding his work.

And all this nonsense because Mr Goff would not assert New Zealand sovereignty to the representatives of Sudan and Zimbabwe and the other thugs who nominate to the UN Human Rights Committee.

He rejected ACT’s straightforward solution offered last September. In effect it would have put criminals in the same practical position as their victims, by ending judge invented Baigent awards for human rights breaches and instead beefing up prisoner rights to ensure proper disciplinary action for abusive gaolers.

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