The only good news about the Bain compensation fiasco is that it is finally over. Allegedly, Bain failed to meet the threshold of innocence, but if so, the Key government failed to meet the threshold of competence on this issue. In the end, Bain got zero compensation from the state for his years of wrongful imprisonment, but scored nearly a million dollars in compensation for the delay in determining his ineligibility for compensation. Wow. That’s like the old Groucho Marx gag about not wanting to be a member of any club that would have him as a member.
Talking of which, it feels a little unsettling to be in the same club as Act Party leader David Seymour….but Seymour is dead right on this point:
“We need to revisit the way that we deal with these last resort cases. There needs to be something better than one or two individuals in Cabinet exercising what appears to be their own personal preferences, shopping for one judicial review after another.”
Well put. In the Bain case, the delay that has ultimately triggered his compensation payout has to be laid at the door of then Justice Minister Judith Collins, who refused to accept the findings of the initial ‘independent’ review she had commissioned, shopped around for a more politically palatable outcome, and then handed the whole mess on to Amy Adams, her hapless successor as Justice Minister.
As a principle, a belated finding of innocence should always result in compensation for those who have been wrongfully imprisoned and socially maligned. What the Bain situation highlights instead is the grotesque concentration of power in the Minister’s hands, within the New Zealand justice system. The same Justice Minister who oversees our humanly fallible court system also administers the available means of correcting its inevitable mistakes, the mercy prerogatives, the compensation mechanisms, and the terms, conditions and resources of the legal aid system that would help to prevent miscarriages of justice from occurring in the first place.
In practice, our justice system operates with a ministerial market dominance that the Commerce Commission would never tolerate in the business world. For years, there have been calls for an independent commission to investigate miscarriages of justice, and to refer them speedily back to the courts for re-hearings. This would have saved millions in the Bain case. The legal and constitutional arguments for creating such a body can be found here.
Three years ago, these calls to create a Criminal Cases Review Commission were rebuffed by the usual road block… then-Justice Minister Judith Collins.
Is a Justice Minister ever likely to create a body to investigate and recommend a correction for the mistakes made by their own minions? We can only dream. It would also be very simple for a Criminal Cases Review Commission to administer the compensation regime, at the end of the process. Such a Commission would need of course, to be adequately resourced (again, by the Justice Ministry) to ensure that it could function properly. Yet at least it would be more transparent, would operate at arms length from the Justice Minister, and would be more in accord with the separation of powers that you’d expect to find in the 21st century. The current system – where the prerogatives of mercy (and compensation) are exercised by the same Minister who was responsible for the initial miscarriage – is more like an 18th century relic from the Court of the Sun King.
Footnote : During her career, Collins has shuttled between being Minister of Justice and Minister of Police. If John Key went under a bus tomorrow, Collins would be the frontrunner to succeed him as Prime Minister. Arguably, her track record on the Bain case should be a disqualifier for that role.
Plastic Bag Watch
Interesting data from Britain last week on the effectiveness of a small levy on single-use supermarket plastic bags.
The number of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers in England has plummeted by more than 85% after the introduction of a 5p charge last October, early figures suggest.
More than 7bn bags were handed out by seven main supermarkets in the year before the charge, but this figure plummeted to slightly more than 500m in the first six months after the charge was introduced….The data is the government’s first official assessment of the impact of the charge, which was introduced to help reduce litter and protect wildlife – and the expected full-year drop of 6bn bags was hailed by Ministers as a sign that it is working.
And some scary evidence from Japan on the weekend, about the penetration of microplastic particles into the marine eco-system:
The accumulation of plastic waste fragments in sea sediment has sharply increased around the world in the 21st century, according to a recent study on microplastic litter. The study, led by Hideshige Takada, a professor at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, found the concentration of microplastics, defined as plastic particles up to 5 mm in size, is higher in sediment than in sea water, raising concerns that it could affect organisms living in and on the bottom of the ocean.
“Sediment is becoming one of the places where microplastics build up. There is an urgent need to deal with the situation by reducing the use of plastic,” Takada said. Microplastic particles are believed to come from waste such as plastic bags and containers broken down by waves and ultraviolet rays, and also from microbeads widely used in cosmetics and toothpaste. They absorb hazardous chemicals and could become concentrated in birds and fish that mistakenly eat them.
Here, of course, we rely on market forces to take care of such problems.
Pink Shiny Things
Earlier this year the Russian shoegaze band Pinkshinyultrablast (they’re from St Petersburg) released their second album, Grandfeathered, full of the same melodically rich tracks evident on their 2014 debut, Everything Else Matters. Here’s “Holy Forest” from the new album:
And here’s a great live version of “Metamorphosis” on which lead singer Lyubov Soloveva takes the band off finally into Sigur Ros territory.