Precedent-setting United Nations Human Rights Committee case finds indeterminate sentences to be unjust
Close to 1000 prisoners serving long sentences could have a chance for freedom after a landmark case.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee found that the rights of Allan Miller and Michael Carroll had been breached in respect of arbitrary detention, inadequate appeal rights from decisions of the parole board and failure to provide proper rehabilitation and reintegrative provisions to help these prisoners to return to society.
Serial rapist Carroll was sentenced to preventive detention in 1988. He was released in 2003 but recalled to prison six months later where he has resided since.
Miller was sentenced to preventive detention for rape in 1991.
This decision is expected to effect 850 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences.
The Committee also found that once the prisoners' minimum non-parole periods were
reached at 10 years, the prisoners needed to be held in non-punitive conditions, and
were not. After 10 years, their detention became for the protection of the public,
rather than for punitive purposes.
Since 2008 for Carroll, and 2010 for Miller, they had been in arbitrary detention - which would be a breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
Carroll's recall to prison for consuming alcohol was said to be because he was an undue risk to the public. He had fled his residence while on parole because of being hounded by the media, twice in a five-day period, following the leaking of his address by the Department of Corrections.
However, he only broke parole conditions, and did not commit a substantive crime during his seven months of parole. This resulted in a recall to prison for 14 years, which was further found to be an arbitrary detention.
The Committee found the Government were obligated to immediately reconsider Caroll's and Miller's detention and take steps to facilitate their release. The Government also needed to take steps to prevent similar situations happening in the future and review the relevant legislation.
Human rights lawyer Dr Tony Ellis, acting for both men, said that the decision was precedent setting.
All prisoners on preventive detention, or other indeterminate sentences such as life for murder, or lengthy periods of detention for the mentally ill, or intellectually disabled, would require the Government to seriously review legislation and penal and detention practice within 180 days.
General Manager Civil and Constitutional Policy from the Ministry of Justice Caroline Greaney confirmed the New Zealand Government had just received the Committee's decision.
"The Committee has raised a number of issues and the Ministry and other agencies will be providing advice to Ministers before the Government formally responds," she said.
"That response is required within the next six months and are unable to comment further while we prepare that advice."
Published on the NZ Herald on April 19, 2018