An outrage: ministry must cough up for upsetting a jailbird whose crimes include aggravated robbery

Alf will be spending some time today checking out who’s who and what’s what at an outfit called the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

We have far to many tribunals.

This one deals with claims under the Human Rights Act, the Privacy Act and the Health and Disability Commissioner Act.

Its only useful purpose – at first blush – is that maybe Alf will need a job there one day, because it provides a bit of work for some former MPs.

Its members include Keith Shirley and Brian Neeson, neither of them – in Alf’s experience – inclined to smoke the sort of stuff that would addle their brains or mix with lefties who who would convert them to their namby-pamby world view.

Alf accordingly would like to think neither of them was involved in the decision that triggered his (a) enormous indignation – no, make that enormous outrage; and (b) immediate research into the tribunal and its purpose.

Police and some other politicians are expressing their outrage, too.

Alf trusts, of course, that he is looking in the right direction for culprits before he demands the rolling of heads.

All sorts of outfits seem to be operating in the name of human rights, privacy and so forth.

But in this case, someone somewhere has determined that one of the country’s most notorious criminals deserves $3500 compensation for breach of privacy and hurt feelings.

Breach of privacy and hurt feelings?

But the bugger who lodged the complaint is banged up after being convicted of crimes including attacking a police officer, unlawful possession of firearms, aggravated robbery, theft, burglary and trying to escape from custody.

His record includes aggravated assault on a cop.

This is not the sort of behaviour Alf associates with sensitivity.

But according to a report in the HOS, this inmate took umbrage when he learned that the Ministry of Social Development had wrongly listed him as having a conviction under the heading of “domestic violence”.

“I have never been convicted of domestic violence,” he told MSD officials.

“Indeed, the only violent offence I have ever been convicted of was for aggravated assault on a police constable.”

The ministry initially refused to correct the information with a file note and apologise.

So he complained to the Privacy Commissioner and then to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

He said the stress and injury to his feelings, aggravated by the MSD’s unlawful actions, meant “nothing less than monetary compensation and an apology is acceptable to me”.

The inmate was allowed out of prison to give evidence before the tribunal. On the witness stand, he accused the MSD of “flouting the law”.

The tribunal decided his privacy had been breached, he had suffered emotional harm, and he was entitled to a payout.

Good grief.

But whoa – there’s more.

Without him asking, the tribunal also ordered that he not be identified, in order to protect his family.

Senior Sergeant Luke Shadbolt, vice-president of the Police Association, is right on the button when he says “real justice” would be compensation to the man’s victims for the emotional harm they suffered, rather than compensation to the prisoner.

And Act MP Rodney Hide said the payout was “totally sickening”.

“Here’s a violent criminal who’s assaulted a police officer and the taxpayer has to cough up for his hurt feelings,” Hide said. “He should be taken out in the public square, put in stocks and we throw fruit at him. We’ll see about his hurt feelings then.”

Alf has huge sympathy with the position of MSD chief executive Peter Hughes.

He simply issued a brief statement to the HOS –

“His violent criminal history speaks for itself and he has spent much of his life in prison,” Hughes said. ”

“He said our refusal to put a note on his file when he originally asked us caused him considerable distress, loss of dignity, humiliation and that his feelings were hurt. He then wanted money from us. I declined to pay him anything.”

But, said Hughes, the tribunal had ordered $3500 compensation and – although he disagreed with the decision – he would comply.

Among Alf’s many concerns after his initial look into the operations of this tribunal, he finds no filing fees or hearing fees are required when you take a claim to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

But the Tribunal does have the power to award costs in favour of the successful party and against the unsuccessful party.

Most cases result in costs being awarded to one party, after the substantive issues in the case have been decided.

Most of the tribunal’s decisions since 2002 are available on the New Zealand Legal Information Institute website.

Wonder what further nonsense will be found there.

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