Focus on Police Competence
Three Auckland teenagers jailed for a crime they did not commit have been offered compensation of around $160,000 each, Justice Minister Phil Goff said today.
Lucy Akatere, McCushla Fuataha and Tania Vini were convicted in August 2000 for the aggravated robbery of a 16-year-old schoolgirl in Mt Roskill.
They successfully appealed their convictions on the basis that two principal witnesses had retracted their testimony, and were released after spending approximately seven months in jail.
"The compensation offer was first made to the girls on 24 March 2003," Mr Goff said.
“I regret that, despite many months of correspondence with the applicants’ legal counsel, the offer of compensation has been rejected and the matter is now going to court, with an initial hearing set for December 14.
"The compensation offer was in accordance with a report prepared by Kristy McDonald QC, who was commissioned to assess the girls’ eligibility for compensation in accordance with Cabinet criteria.
"That criteria applies to all people who have suffered this kind of miscarriage of justice, and that was known in advance by the girls' counsel. The government continues to belief it is a fair and appropriate offer and we will vigorously defend the court action being taken.
"Ms McDonald's report confirmed that the girls were innocent of the charges and recommended that an ex gratia payment be made to compensate them for the loss and suffering incurred because of their wrongful convictions.
“It was recommended that compensation of $135,000 be paid to Lucy and Tania for non-pecuniary losses such as loss of liberty, loss of reputation, loss or interruption of family and other personal relationships, and mental and emotional harm.
"A slightly higher payment of $137,500 was recommended for McCushla because she received a longer sentence after being identified as the offender who was alleged to have wounded the victim.
"In addition to these amounts, Ms McDonald recommended reimbursement of pecuniary losses such as legal and other costs incurred as a result of their convictions.
“The government accepts that the applicants are innocent and has decided to pay compensation at the level assessed by Ms McDonald.
“The government acknowledges the stress and trauma suffered as a result of wrongful conviction and imprisonment. The compensation offered to them represents society’s obligation to correct the error, while recognising there are other individuals in the justice system who suffer losses but receive no such compensation, such as the victims of crime.
“Calculation of the amount of compensation took into account that the main reason for the arrest and conviction of the teenagers was the evidence of two witnesses, which was later retracted.
"Although Ms McDonald found that there were flaws in the Police investigation, she also concluded that there was no evidence of bad faith on the part of the Police, and that it is not possible to speculate on whether or not those shortcomings would have had an effect on the outcome of the case.
"I am satisfied that the Crown has followed a proper process in dealing with the girls' claim for compensation. Ms McDonald's report applied criteria previous agreed by Cabinet, and the amount offered is fair and reasonable in the circumstances," Mr Goff said.