The Government's main response to the Ombudsman's damning report on the transport of prisoners is under threat, with civil libertarians warning any attempt to introduce waist restraints will meet legal action.
The report said prisoners were often transported in inhumane conditions. It called on Corrections to redesign prison vans so that guards could properly supervise inmates, and prisoners could be kept safe from accidents and from each other.
North Shore teenager Liam Ashley was murdered last year, travelling in a prison van with an inmate he should have been segregated from.
Corrections Minister Damien O'Connor's immediate response to yesterday's report was to propose the introduction of waist restraints to protect prisoners from each other, as well as protect the public and prison officers from them.
But Council for Civil Liberties president Tony Ellis said any such move could bring legal action.
"If the department were to go ahead with its proposition that it wanted to handcuff people around the waist and hands and transport them in the fashion that is being suggested, it is not inconceivable that a civil liberties group would seek to launch High Court action to prevent that," Mr Ellis said.
"There has been embryonic discussion of this, but it's just a floating proposal at the moment so there is nothing to engage in the court. It's just talk at the moment."
Mr Ellis, a civil liberties lawyer who has previously taken successful cases claiming inhumane treatment of prisoners, said the Ombudsman's report created the possibility that a case alleging mistreatment of prisoners during transportation could be taken.
Italy and Ireland had moved some years ago to ensure prisoners were treated humanely while being transported and New Zealand could learn from such countries, Mr Ellis said.
"We're not asking for anything extraordinary here.
A man was killed, others are being beaten up - one severely - and this is not some Third World country. We need sensible standards, and if it costs a few dollars, it costs a few dollars."
Mr O'Connor and Corrections came under repeated attack yesterday from opposition MPs, with Mr O'Connor grilled at a select committee, through questions in Parliament, and a subsequent snap debate on the Ombudsman's report.
National justice spokesman Simon Power said Chief Ombudsman John Belgrave had been misled by Corrections during his investigation, and it was disingenuous for Mr O'Connor to claim the Ombudsman had misinterpreted information the department had given him.
"This is a minister and a department who over the past 14 or 15 months have adopted three strategies in running that department: deny, deny, deny.
" ... the Ombudsman, an officer of Parliament, tables a report which is scathing of the department's handling of prisoner transport, virtually every page describing the department's response to these matters as unsatisfactory ... and the minister has got the gall to stand in question time and say it was the Ombudsman who misunderstood the Department of Corrections."
Mr O'Connor said he was not blaming the Ombudsman at all, but he had seen the information supplied to the Ombudsman and it was correct.
"It may not have included all the information the Ombudsman wanted - that is something I am investigating - but it is reasonable to assume that the Ombudsman could have misinterpreted that information."
Chief Ombudsman John Belgrave said his report stood on its own, and he would make no further comment on it.
Yesterday Mr O'Connor also defended his proposal for waist restraints, and said a trade-off had to be made between ensuring public safety and the safety of inmates.
"We will introduce restraints so that the terrible assault that took place in the back of that prison van cannot occur again because the arms of prisoners in the future will be constrained inside prison vans ... "