Focus on Police Competence
Three young women jailed for a crime they did not commit have rejected compensation of more than $100,000 each and are challenging the way the Government reached the figure.
A claim filed in the High Court in Auckland shows Lucy Akatere and Tania Vini were offered $135,000 each, and McCushla Fuataha was offered $137,500.
Their lawyer has indicated the $1 million paid to Arthur Allan Thomas, wrongly convicted of double murder, is a benchmark for compensation but said the amount was for the court to decide.
Akatere, Vini and Fuataha served seven months in prison after being jointly convicted of an aggravated robbery in Three Kings in August 1999.
Akatere was aged 15 at the time and her co-accused were aged 14.
The case was reopened after a witness admitted she lied and the three were proven to have been nowhere near the scene of the attack.
The Court of Appeal overturned the convictions in 2001 and told the girls: "We offer our sympathy."
The amount of compensation offered by the government last year was recommended by Wellington QC Kristy McDonald, who was asked to apply government criteria and recommend the appropriate ex gratia payment.
Ms McDonald recommended the amounts, a public statement of the trio's innocence and an apology by the Crown.
The women rejected the offer and described it as "both seriously inadequate and unlawful".
They claim the government guidelines used to reach the compensation figure are "unlawful, irrational and unfair" and that they were not correctly applied in reaching the recommended amounts.
The women want the court to declare the recommendations unlawful and invalid, and quash them.
Their lawyer, Gary Gotlieb, said the Government had ignored opinions by three QCs - Rodney Harrison, Richard Craddock and Bill Wilson - on behalf of the women.
"The figure offered in comparison to what happened to the girls was grossly understated.
"Not only did the girls have the seven-odd months in prison, they had all that terrible time beforehand where they really lost their education and lost all their opportunities that at that age you have. (They were) ostracised by fellow students, it just makes you very sad."
Mr Gotlieb said he did not believe the case would set a precedent.
"How often are you going to get girls of that age getting wrongfully convicted?"
In reaction Justice Minister Phil Goff said the women were each offered total compensation of over $160,000, including costs, and that was considered appropriate.
The offer was based on criteria established by Cabinet a number of years ago, Mr Goff said through a spokesman.
The Government would vigorously defend the action in court, he said.