Liberty Watch – January 2013

Round up of civil liberty news for January 2013.


Criminal Justice

Inmates awarded $453,875 compensation

New Zealand prisoners have been awarded more than $450,000 in compensation since 2005, of which about $47,000 has been paid to their victims and $27,000 in other payments, including fines.

To date, just $133,070 has been paid to prisoners, following a claims process for compensation awarded for any act or omission by or on behalf of the Crown.

It also covered out-of-court settlements, most commonly between the Department of Corrections and prisoners, for administrative errors that caused prisoners to be detained beyond their release date.

In total, 38 prisoners were awarded $453,875 in compensation for wrongs that occurred in the corrections and criminal justice systems.

In accordance with the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Act 2005, $401,691 of that compensation was held in the Victims' Claims Trust Account.

Any victim of a prisoner awarded compensation could make a claim to the money.

Otago Daily Times 5/1/13


GPS tracking of criminals to increase

Twenty-five high-risk sex offenders are currently being tracked, with the Corrections Department planning to dramatically expand its GPS monitoring scheme to 200 ex-prisoners this year. 

The offenders were wearing GPS ankle bracelets as the Government stepped up its drive to monitor convicted offenders in the community.  The new technology is part of a series of policy changes designed to reduce reoffending by 25 per cent within five years.

Other changes saw Justice Minister Judith Collins introduce legislation last September that would give authorities power to recall dangerous ex-prisoners to jail indefinitely. The "public protection orders" will be debated in Parliament this year.

Corrections is also developing a register that would allow violent or sexual offenders to be monitored for the rest of their lives.

New Zealand Herald 21/1/13


Disabled Rights

Lack of support for refugees with disability needs

In their latest research, ChangeMakers Refugee Forum, a rights-based, community development, research and advocacy organization, found that the lives of refugees with disability needs in Wellington, in terms of their right to participate in society on an equal basis with other New Zealanders is not being realised.

Although all New Zealanders with disability needs have the right to live independently and participate fully in society, ChangeMakers’ research found that in Wellington, disability strategies do not include people from refugee backgrounds, and there is a lack of coordination across refugee agencies, and primary healthcare and disability service providers. People from refugee backgrounds with disability needs have ‘slipped through the cracks’ and are living in protracted isolation and with limited independence. The research launched at a Human Rights Commission roundtable in December 2012, makes a number of recommendations to ensure that people from refugee backgrounds with disability needs can participate fully in New Zealand life. 24/1/13


Freedom of the Press

NZ eighth in world for freedom of the press

New Zealand has been ranked eighth out of 179 countries in an international world press freedom index. Massey University journalism lecturer Cathy Strong says New Zealanders can be blasé about the information the media has access to. She says information gained about mayors, MPs, and what's happening in Parliament is because the media is there covering it all the time. 18/1/13


Gender Issues

Collins rejects advice of Human Rights Commissioner

Justice Minister Judith Collins rejected the advice of an independent panel that recommended a woman lawyer for a top state service job and selected her own nominee, despite a plea from the Chief Human Rights Commissioner.

Ms Collins announced experienced Auckland barrister Robert Kee as the new Director of Human Rights Proceedings, an independent role within the Human Rights Commission, in mid-2012 after nominating him for the post.

This was despite a panel telling her its first choice was lawyer Catherine Rodgers and Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford's writing to the minister to express his concern about how few well-qualified women were being selected for state-sector jobs.

Ms Collins also eliminated another woman candidate during the early selection process.

Ms Collins chose Mr. Kee over the first-choice candidate and recommended his appointment for five years. The position pays $200,000 to $205,000 a year.  A spokeswoman for the minister said she and Mr. Kee were "known to each other" because they studied law at the same time at the University of Auckland and because Ms Collins held high-profile roles at the Auckland District Law Society and New Zealand Law Society.  "This is not unusual, and does not indicate a conflict of interest," the spokeswoman said.

Mr. Rutherford, who said he was writing as the Chief Human Rights Commissioner and not chairman of the independent panel, had said he shared Ms Collins' "desire to see properly qualified women better represented in the senior ranks of public service".

"I want to emphasise the importance of wherever possible appointing properly qualified women to senior public sector roles and taking a strategic approach to that, if at all possible," wrote Mr. Rutherford.

"If ministers treat each of these opportunities as a one-off appointment process, rather than a strategic opportunity to improve the gender balance, I fear we may never get to where we all want to get to."

New Zealand Herald 26/1/13


Human Rights

NZ leads way in human freedom index

New Zealand leads the way in human freedom according to an international index that ranks 123 countries.

The Canadian Fraser Institute has released its report evaluating how each country measures in security and safety, movement, expression and relationship freedoms.  New Zealand topped the index as offering the highest level of human freedom worldwide, followed by the Netherlands and Hong Kong.  Australia came in fourth, with the USA ranked seventh.

The index was contained in a new book, Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom. The book's editor, Fred McMahon, said the intention was to measure the degree to which people were free to enjoy classic civil liberties, freedom of speech, religion, individual economic choice, and association and assembly-in each country surveyed.  They also looked at indicators of crime and violence, freedom of movement, legal discrimination against homosexuals, and women's freedoms.

Otago Daily Times 9/1/13



Mental health Taser shock

A disproportionate number of people with mental health issues are being stung by Tasers, figures show.  Since the nationwide rollout of Tasers in March 2010, they have been drawn by police officers 1320 times and discharged 212 times.  Numbers released under the Official Information Act show nearly a third of those hit were considered by police to have mental health issues.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements said they had always feared those with mental health problems would be a target for officers using Tasers and the figures confirmed that.  She was also concerned by the lack of research around the long-term effects of the weapons' use, particularly because those with psychological issues often had physical problems too.

Auckland University's senior lecturer in nursing, Anthony O'Brien, found Tasers were much more likely (27 per cent) to be discharged at mental health emergencies than at criminal arrests (10 per cent) and warned their use would need to be monitored as the weapons were more widely used.

In 2011 there were 621 Tasers used by police but that number ballooned to 908 when more were bought last year.

Taranaki Daily News 6/1/13


Gay police officers not allowed to parade in uniform

Police officers who want to march in next month's Auckland Pride Parade will reportedly not be allowed to wear their uniforms.

Openly gay and lesbian officers had sought official support to march as representatives of the police force, however the request has been turned down. 

"Any police who wish to participate in the parade can do so as individuals who pay their own way. Participants will not be in uniform," a police said.

The position contrasts with that of the Defence Force, which is allowing LGBT people serving with the Army, Navy and Air Force to march in the parade in uniform.

Otago Daily Times 18/1/13



Home Educators Appeal To Human Rights Commission

As the government’s Select Committee considers submissions on the proposed Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, home educators across New Zealand continue to hope that their concerns over discrimination and other breaches of human rights in the Bill will be heard and addressed. Meanwhile the Home Education Foundation (HEF), which has been advocating parental rights in New Zealand for close to three decades, considers the human rights problems in the Bill serious enough to lay before the Human Rights Commission.

Barbara Smith, National Director of the HEF, says “Our concerns include discrimination against the unemployed, parental rights to choose children’s education and health care, women’s rights to choose domestic work instead of employment, and children’s rights to access the best available education without being deprived of basic income with the proposed halving of benefits of those that do not comply…

We are asking the Human Rights Commission to make strong objections to the human rights violations in the Bill, and to defend the rights of beneficiaries with legal action if necessary.”

The “Social Obligations” contained in the Bill require all beneficiary parents to ensure that their preschool-aged children attend an accredited Early Childhood Education (ECE) provider, register their children with a primary health care provider and ensure that their children attend all the core Well Child checks.  According to the Law Society of New Zealand, these social obligations stigmatise beneficiaries as being unable to care for themselves or their children and will likely result in discrimination on the basis of employment status, which is prohibited by section 19 of the Bill of Rights Act.

The Dunedin Community Law Centre has also highlighted the discrimination involved in the Bill. “These proposals imply that beneficiaries are bad parents who do not know what is best for their children.” This was echoed in many of the submissions. “This Bill creates a category of citizen who has fewer choices and less autonomy simply because they are in receipt of a benefit,” said the Parish Council of St Andrew’s on the Terrace. A private submission stated, “The implication of the bill is that beneficiaries do not see to the necessary health needs of their children…it is a stigma for beneficiaries, rather than a social good for all.”

Many of the organisations making submissions also believed that it is not the role of the state to supplant legitimate parental choices. “Social obligation requirements take away the rights of parents to choose what is best for themselves and their families,” said the Auckland Women’s Centre. “Furthermore, some parents want to have a choice about the educational environment they put their children into. Not all ECE is suitable for all children. Some parents choose to home school their children.” 22/1/13