Only Justice Minister Judith Collins and the Cabinet know why they have ordered a second legal opinion on the issue of compensation for David Bain. But the fact they have done so suggests a very strong view of Bain's case in the Beehive.

Money is surely not the main issue for the minister. The difference between one judge's monetary award and the next could be as much as it will cost to obtain the second opinion.

In any event, the calculation must be fairly simple. Bain spent 13 years in jail. He would probably have earned an average income over most of that time. Ignore the costs to the taxpayer of keeping him in prison, call that poor compensation for the loss of 13 years of living - years when he might have been living like any man in his 20s - and give him the lump sum equivalent of the money he might have earned.

Precedents suggest he could be due much more than that, at least $2 million. But even that sum is hardly going to break Bill English's Budget. It would be enough to buy a good house in Auckland and perhaps set up a small business - if that was his inclination.


But David Bain cannot make these sort of plans yet, even though a Canadian judge, Ian Binnie, has reviewed the case at the Government's request and recommended a pay-out.

The Government received Justice Binnie's advice in September and Collins said she would release his findings within two months.

Now she has referred the case to Robert Fisher QC. No information is available and no decision is likely until early next year.

It is already three years since Bain was acquitted on a retrial for the murder of his family. He needs to put all this behind him but it must seem to him it will never be concluded.

Fisher is quite capable of deciding Bain was "probably" responsible for the deaths of his family and therefore not deserving of compensation. It could happen.

Fisher came to that decision on Rex Haig, whose murder conviction had been quashed, and no payment was made.

A denial of compensation does not depend on a finding of guilt beyond reasonable doubt but merely on the "balance of probabilities".

A finding of that nature would satisfy those who have not taken David Bain's side in the long public debate over the case - but we hope they do not include the justice minister among their not inconsiderable numbers.


She ought to respect a verdict she receives, not shop for a new one.

Debate on this article is now closed.