A new resident convicted twice for sex offending since his arrival in 2012 - including while on bail - should not been exempted from deportation by Immigration NZ staff, says the Immigration Minister.
But although he cannot legally change the exemption, Michael Woodhouse has ordered changes to the deportation decision-making process to ensure he is "adequately informed about cases with certain risk factors".
In April the Herald revealed that a senior official at Immigration New Zealand had granted Sultan Ali Akbari a deportation liability suspension.
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The staffer was a delegated decision-maker (DDM) for the minister after Akbari was released from prison on parole.
He had been jailed on five charges of indecent acts on girls aged 8 and 10 and indecently assaulting an 18-year-old.
That offending happened while Akbari was on bail awaiting trial for indecently assaulting a woman in February 2013.
Immigration's decision was heavily criticised, particularly as Akbari did not complete rehabilitation programmes or offence-related courses in prison.
After Akbari was released, the Parole Board tightened his conditions to include a curfew and GPS monitoring after new information about his "concerning" behaviour was received.
After the Herald published the initial story about Akbari, Woodhouse temporarily revoked the powers of delegated decision makers at INZ to make decisions on deportations.
Those decisions, like those of the minister, cannot be reviewed and do not need to be justified.
A letter from Woodhouse to Iimmigration deputy chief executive Nigel Bickle on April 26, provided to the Herald under the Official Information Act, reveals the minister's true feelings about the Akbari case.
"Following media reports earlier this week, I became concerned about the decision to suspend Sultan Ali Akbari's liability for deportation," Woodhouse wrote to Bickle.
"While I understand there are some cases where a discretion of judgment [can be] applied during the decision-making process, my provisional review based on the information I have available is that discretion should not have been applied in this case.
"As a result I am temporarily revoking the delegations currently in place for delegated decision-makers at Immigration New Zealand to make decisions on my behalf in respect of cases involving a resident class visa holder's liability for deportation.
Woodhouse also requested a meeting with Bickle and INZ senior staff to address " two areas of concern in regards to the role of DDMs".
He wanted to "clarify the circumstances under which a deportation case is appropriate to be [delegated] and when it should be referred to the minister for consideration".
And, where a decision was being delegated, Woodhouse wanted to "ensure there is an alignment of the issues that should be taken into consideration; recognising that while these are matters involving the exercise of discretion, there are some cases where discretion would not be appropriate".
"I would also like a formal briefing in respect of the Sultan Ali Akbari case, around any ability for the decision to be reviewed," he said.
"I am confident we can better align the decision-making process with myself and the public's expectation in this regard."
Texts between Woodhouse and his press secretary, also released under the OIA, revealed Bickle "supports the direction" he was taking in response to Akbari's case.
Changes made to improve deportation decision process
Woodhouse told the
that since that letter was sent on April 26 he had met INZ officials.
Their powers to act for him and exercise discretion on his behalf to determine deportation cases and to suspend or cancel deportation liability had been "reinstated".
"In general, DDMs make good decisions that are in line with my general expectations as to how absolute discretion should be applied," Woodhouse said.
"However, to strengthen the integrity of the process and ensure that I am adequately informed about cases with certain risk factors, I have decided to make an adjustment to the process.
"As such, where a DDM is of a mind to suspend or cancel deportation liability for an individual convicted of a crime, which meets the definition of a 'specified offence' in section 29 of the Victims' Rights Act 2002, my office will now be advised before a final decision is made."
The specified offences include:
• Serious assault
• An offence that has resulted in serious injury to a person, in the death of a person, or in a person becoming incapable
• an offence that has led to the victim having ongoing fears, on reasonable grounds, for his or her physical safety or security or for the physical safety or security of one or more members of his or her immediate family.
Woodhouse said other measures had also been put in place to improve the process.
"I have now established quarterly meetings with the Associate Minister of Immigration and DDMs for the purposes of formal calibration of decision making relating to all discretionary decisions made on his behalf," he said.
"This will provide a useful forum to discuss the approach to cases and allow me to continue to reinforce his expectations of DDMs."
He said despite his request to see if the Akbari case could be reviewed, it would not.
"There is no legal ability for me to review the Akbari case," he said.
Akbari's suspension will last for five years and can only be reviewed if he reoffends during that time.
Since November 24, deportation liabilities have been suspended 89 times.