Teina Pora spent 21 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, shafted by a Police investigation that prioritised an investigator’s hunch over the pursuit of credible evidence.
Yesterday’s announcement that the government is to pay him $2.5m in compensation is a sorely-needed acknowledgment of Pora’s suffering. It’s also typical of this government’s tendency to avoid doing anything more than the absolute minimum, even in the face of significant injustice.
Pora’s case is as exceptional as it gets and he has suffered “grievous” mental and emotional harm as a result. It’s embarrassing, then, that the Justice Minister insists she is bound to follow the Cabinet’s compensation Guidelines to the letter rather than according to their spirit.
Those Cabinet Guidelines were introduced by Labour in 2000 to ensure consistency between cases; to ensure that claimants should be treated equally. Instead of upholding this principle, the government has chosen to prioritise easy accounting. The result is that Pora, wrongly imprisoned for 21 years, is being made to accept compensation at a lower rate than if he’d been jailed for two years. This decision does not give Kiwis confidence in the justice system and its accountability measures.
The government could at least follow Rodney Hansen QC’s suggestion that Pora’s level of compensation be adjusted for inflation. As Hansen himself says, to do anything else would be “anomalous and unjust”.
Then again, given John Key’s thinly veiled threats that the Crown “doesn’t have to make payment”, maybe the government isn’t really interested in a principled approach.
What’s clear as day, though, is that we cannot afford to have this happen again. If our government was serious about ensuring justice for all, they would take this opportunity to start providing meaningful support to initiatives like the New Zealand Public Interest Project, who work to prevent these kinds of miscarriages of justice from going unanswered. Organisations like the NZPIP run on the resources of their own members; providing funds is the least the government could do.
Instead, Amy Adams is remarkably insistent that this decades-long debacle proves that the system works.
It’s also worth noting that in July, Cabinet will be deciding whether or not to raise the age of youth justice to include 17 year olds. Frankly, this is a change that’s long overdue. The Green Party supports the campaign by JustSpeak and other organisations to let more young people access our progressive youth court system.
It’s absurd that a 17 year old has to get their parents’ permission to go on a school trip, but has no right to have their parents present if they’re questioned by police. Pora was 17 when he was first arrested and subjected to an extended police interrogation that led to his false confession. This change could be the difference for the next Teina Pora.
We need to make a lot of changes to prevent another miscarriage of justice like that Pora experienced. These are good places to start.