Editorial: State must show Pora an element of decency

Mr Pora spent 21 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. He has lived more than half his adult life behind bars. Photo /  Nick Reed
Mr Pora spent 21 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. He has lived more than half his adult life behind bars. Photo / Nick Reed

Teina Pora's legal team are right to hold out on the Government's compensation offer until the issue of inflation adjustment is resolved. The $2.5 million compensation award was based on guidelines which do not account for inflation. The sum was described in the letter of apology Justice Minister Amy Adams wrote to Mr Pora as an "ex gratia" payment. In other words, an amount of the Government's choosing, given that there is no recognised legal right to compensation for wrongful imprisonment in New Zealand.

That in itself is a flaw in our judicial system, as people falsely imprisoned do have a legal right to compensation. The guidelines help fill the legal gap whereby people deprived of their liberty in one circumstance can obtain redress - to a point - available under the law to others.

The formal letter which set out the payment deal was headed "Statement of innocence and apology for wrongful conviction".

It could not be any clearer. Mr Pora spent 21 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. He has lived more than half his adult life behind bars.

He has been separated from his daughter, subjected to the harshness of imprisonment, defined by the justice system as a murderer and twice convicted of slaying a woman in a home he had not set foot in. In New Zealand judicial history, Mr Pora's case ranks among the worst miscarriages of justice. On that ground alone, those with the task of reaching a fair and just settlement need to temper their accounting with compassion.

Yet despite months of freedom, and a report by a retired High Court judge which found unequivocably that a different man was solely responsible for the heinous rape and murder of Susan Burdett, Mr Pora finds himself still fighting the state to show an element of decency.

Justice Minister Amy Adams has pointed out that the Cabinet guidelines, used to strike the amount mentioned in the statement of apology - $2,520,949.20 - did not provide for inflation. The guidelines are, however, discretionary.

The starting point under the arrangements is $100,000 a year. The actual sum in the case of Mr Pora was reached, it appears, by multiplying the base amount by the years he spent behind bars with an additional $300,000 to cover pecuniary losses for income he could not earn.

Taking inflation into account, it has been suggested the payment would be around $4.5 million. The minister and her colleagues could easily put the guidelines to one side and revisit the matter, before it has to deal with David Bain's compensation case. A report about Mr Bain's claim has been with ministers for some months, with no sign of a decision being reached. Justice Rodney Hansen found Mr Pora innocent on the balance of probabilities - the test for compensation - adding that "he could have proved his innocence to an even higher standard".

Mr Bain, who spent 13 years in jail before a jury in a retrial found him not guilty of the murder of five family members, has been the focus of a compensation process which started four years ago. He too deserves answers sooner rather than later.

The matter of Mr Pora is cut and dried. He is an innocent man. The Cabinet accepts that. In the interests of justice and fairness, it should revise its offer. That is a simple way in which this stain on the administration of justice can start to fade.

- NZ Herald

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