Teina Pora’s compensation an insult

Yesterday, Teina Pora was awarded N.Z.$2.52 million for the 21 years he spent in prison after being wrongfully convicted in the trial for the rape and murder of Susan Burdett in 1993. The sum is the largest awarded, but politicians, social commentators and justice campaigners alike are disgusted with it. Why?

Unfortunately there is a bit of history preceding Mr Pora’s case in terms of New Zealand case law and previous injustices that have resulted from it.

In 1970 a couple were found dead on a farm in Waikato. Their names were Jeanette and Harvey Crewe. A farmer in the district by the name of Arthur Allan Thomas was found guilty of murdering them. However after a substantial outcry the trial was deeply flawed and had inconsistent evidence, including evidence which was deliberately planted by the Police. This was the impetus for a retrial. Mr Thomas was convicted again. After another outcry a Royal Commission of Inquiry was established which found that the Police had planted a spent .22 rifle shell to prove Mr  Thomas guilty. They also knew it was clean, and did not have the corrosion one would expect from months being exposed to the weather. As a result of the R.C.I. Mr Thomas was pardoned. He was also awarded $950,000 for the nine years he spent in prison.

In 1994, Dunedin man David Bain was found guilty of murdering his entire family. In 2009, after a retrial, Mr Bain was found not guilty of the murders. Whether one thinks he is guilty or not – there are certainly people around who are convinced he is – the Crown has as yet not awarded Mr Bain compensation, like it has with Mr Pora and Mr Thomas. This in many respects makes Mr Bain a sort of elephant in the room, who if Mr Pora’s case is anything to go by, could claim up to $2.5-3 million. However this appears unlikely at least until there is a change of Government, with Prime Minister John Key saying he would need to be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt and also prove that Robin Bain (his father and potential suspect), did it. As the evidence is now 20+ years old and not reliable, compensation seems highly improbable.

Mr Pora’s compensation package is a two fold insult. It insults a man who has suffered dreadfully and has had possibly the better part of his working life taken away from him. It further insults New Zealanders sense of fair justice for all by being based on a woefully inadequate legal provision that for every year wrongfully served by an innocent person that they be awarded N.Z.$100,000. His legal team had asked for N.Z.$8 million but accepted that that was highly unlikely, and were prepared to settle for a compensation package of $4 million based on the Consumer Price Index. Given the changes in living costs, wages and the fact that this is supposed to be compensation for a massive legal injustice, $4 million is not only a lot more realistic, it is quite fair.

Mr Pora will need more than just compensation though. When he went to prison it was not known that he had Foetal Alcohol Syndrome which affected . He will also need a lawyer to advise him on legal aspects of the compensation package, as Mr Pora has not had any reasonable opportunity to gain or further his education in the last 22 years. Given that this is a Crown apology, the Crown should be responsible for appointing the lawyer.

But if we really want to avoid another injustice, the legal provision for $100,000 per annum  to be paid for each year wrongfully served needs to be amended. The review process for cases of a contentious nature also needs an overhaul. Unless this is done, injustices of this nature will continue.

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