Brief pre-announcement thoughts on Pora's compensation

How much are 20-something years of a life worth? Later today we'll find out what the Government thinks - but here's some early thoughts on advance reports.

Some brief initial thoughts on the (assumed true) claim that it will be announced today that Teina Pora will be offered around $2 million in compensation for his 21-22 (I've seen both figures used) years in prison.

First, great! As I wrote here in my review of Michael Bennett's In Dark Places - go buy it now! - Pora was clearly innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. No-one is going to argue he should not have received something.

Second, the around $2 million figure looks to be pretty much a straight application of the Cabinet's guidelines on how much should be given in such cases:

The starting figure for calculating non-pecuniary losses should be set at $100,000 and that this base figure is to be multiplied on a pro rata basis by the number of years spent in custody so that awards for non-pecuniary losses are proportional to the period of detention;


Only those cases with truly exceptional circumstances would attract general compensation that is greater than $100,000, and that on average the relevant figure should even out around $100,000

Sure, these are only "guidelines". And there is scope to depart from them in situations where (for instance) there is some form of police or prosecutor misconduct, or where the sentence was especially severe. Equally, it looks like there's been nothing added to Pora's compensation package to take into account "pecuniary losses" - that is, the lost opportunity to earn money whilst behind bars.

However, the guidelines also allow for a departure from the guidelines to reflect "the conduct of the person leading to prosecution and conviction". So at least it doesn't look like the amount was reduced because Pora was somehow to blame for his own predicament.  And as for Pora's pecuniary losses, it may be that the Government believed a 17-year-old habitual car thief with little education and cognitive impairments had little prospect of significant (legitimate) career earnings.

Third, there are other pre-guidelines cases of innocent men (Arthur Allan Thomas; David Dougherty) who have received proportionately more money for their time in jail. Thomas got the equivalent of $4.5 million for 9 years in prison to cover both his non-pecuniary loss and the fact he could not run his farm for that period. Note also that the Police had planted evidence in order to gain Thomas' conviction, which undoubtedly was reflected in his compensation payout. Dougherty got $870,000 for near-on four years jail time - $700,000 for non-pecuniary losses and $170,000 for "lost income and the legal and other costs incurred by his conviction". Whether the offence Dougherty was convicted of - sexual offending against a young child - was "worse" than that Pora was convicted of can be debated. Certainly prisons are said to be notoriously hard on convicted pedophiles.

Fourth, the around $2 million figure is not an offer to Mr Pora to be negotiated over. It's a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. There is no legal right to compensation.

Fifth, we don't yet know if the monetary compensation will be accompanied by a formal apology for what happened. That is something that Mr Pora apparently valued more highly than any monetary settlement. I hope it is forthcoming.

Anyway - I'll come back to this once we've seen the official announcement and (I hope) the report from Rodney Hansen, QC on which the Government's decision was based.