Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young: Bain payout a test of Justice Minister too

Settlement ends tough case but rubs salt into Pora's raw deal.

There are many ways by which Justice Minister Amy Adams can measure success in her job.

This week, she raised her profile and handled herself well at the press conference in announcing the David Bain legal settlement.

On that score, this week was a success.

She is a great communicator. Clear in thought. Swift in delivery. No emotion - and possibly no empathy.

She has a reputation for being outspoken and courageous, at least when it comes to standing up for her own views.

She is a younger version of Theresa May, someone whose political reputation is defined more in terms of efficiency rather than ideology.

Adams is one of John Key's favourites. When Bill English is away, Key often asks her to sit next to him in the House.

It is not good for PMs to be seen on TV sitting alone, and Adams pops over from her bench next to Attorney-General Chris Finlayson.

As one of the highest flyers of her generation, Adams is sometimes mentioned as a future National leader.

That could conceivably mean that in less than 18 months she is battling Paula Bennett to become next Leader of the Opposition, in the event that National does not secure a fourth term in Government.

Adams has some big issues to get to grips with between now and then, though: ongoing reforms to the way family violence is dealt with in the justice system (it makes up 42 per cent of the police force's daily activity) and how to deal with the Law Commission report on how to deal with sexual violence.

Getting David Bain's claim out of the way to get on with more current issues will be seen as an achievement, especially when former minister Simon Power and Judith Collins couldn't resolve it in the time they had available.

On Tuesday Adams announced the "pragmatic" legal settlement with Bain, who was acquitted on retrial of murdering his parents, Robin and Margaret, sisters Arawa and Laniet, and brother Stephen.

Bain was unable to persuade the esteemed Australian jurist Ian Callinan that he met the test of innocence and deserved compensation. But Adams persuaded her colleagues that he deserved a payout anyway for the length of time it had taken to make a decision that he didn't deserve a payout.

It was apparently not relevant that the reason it had taken more than six years to get a final decision was in large part down to litigation by Bain.

She was determined to make the issue go away and in that regard has had success. Bain has been paid $925,000 and she has a written undertaking there will be no more litigation.

But the bigger test of the success of Amy Adams' week, and this settlement, is whether the Justice Minister has increased or decreased confidence in the justice system as a result of her actions.

On that score, she fails. Her favourable treatment of Bain exacerbates her unfavourable treatment of Teina Pora a few weeks earlier.

She commissioned advice on how much Teina Pora should be compensated for his 22 years in prison, once he had easily met the test of innocence - and then ignored the advice.

The bigger test of the success of Amy Adams' week, and this settlement, is whether [she] has increased or decreased confidence in the justice system as a result of her actions.

Former High Court judge Rodney Hansen not only wanted the compensation adjusted for inflation - the guidelines were last adjusted in 2000 - he said that not to adjust it would be "anomalous and unjust".

The rate of compensation paid to people wrongly imprisoned will decline the longer someone remains in prison, he said.

Amy Adams ignored Hansen's advice on the basis that if she did the right thing by Teina Pora, (not her words) she would have to do the right thing by the others who received compensation since then.

So instead, she did the "unjust" thing, creating a further glaring injustice.

Considering the very small number of victims of injustice who have actually had payouts since 2000, less than a dozen, the Government should err on the side of generosity.

Possibly in her haste to deal with Pora and Bain efficiently, she did not give the proper weighting to the inequities in the system - and the fact that the system gives Cabinet the discretion to address them.

In her favour, Adams has exercised her discretion in allowing the Pora payout to proceed in spite of a legal challenge to its quantum.

The judicial review will be difficult because the whole system of compensation is based on ex gratia payments, meaning there is no entitlement to them or obligation to pay them.

But the most likely course of success will be based on the argument that the payments are supposed to be firmly in line with the approach taken by New Zealand courts in false imprisonment cases, and they haven't.

In announcing the Bain payout, Adams also said the Cabinet guidelines on compensation will be reviewed.

It is yet to be determined whether the review will just be an update of the figures for paying compensation.

The better course would be to have a broader review of the system.

It could raise questions about whether to extend compensation to others, for example to people remanded in custody but later found not guilty.

Adams' review could look at whether the compensation system should be enshrined in law rather than in guidelines, and whether New Zealand should establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission of the sort that operates in Britain, although that may be too courageous.

It should certainly look at whether to take the system out of the political arena altogether.

That would go some way to compensate for Adams' own failings in dispensing justice recently, and which has dulled her shining star.

- NZ Herald

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Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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