The Bain review

Andrea Vance at Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key denies the Government is casting around to get the advice it wants on compensation for David Bain.

He confirmed yesterday that Justice Minister Judith Collins had sought a second opinion on recommendations from retired Canadian judge Justice Ian Binnie.

Robert Fisher, QC, has been asked to look at Justice Binnie’s report, which the Government has had since September.

Asked if it was a question of the Government looking for the advice it wanted, he said: “No, I don’t think so . . . she [Ms Collins] had some concerns, or at least issues, that she wanted to flesh out a bit more before she took the next step.

“There will be a lot of public interest in what happens here and obviously the Government needs to ensure it’s fair.”

Justice Binnie concluded Mr Bain was innocent on the balance of probabilities of the murder of his parents, two sisters and brother in Dunedin in 1994.

Mr Bain is seeking compensation for the almost 13 years he spent in jail after being convicted in May 1995. Mr Bain was acquitted at a retrial in 2009 and stands to get about $2 million. But the Government is not obliged to pay compensation.

It is unusual for the Government to get a second opinion. It makes you wonder why.

I don’t think it is in anyway a fiscal issue – that the Government just doesn’t want to pay out money. To be blunt $2 million is less than 0.01% of Government expenditure – it’s loose change. So this isn’t a case of the Govt being stingy. In fact getting a second opinion in itself will cost money.

I also don’t think it is an issue of not wanting to do something unpopular, which they might be criticized for. Quite the contrary. While NZers have a variety of views on the competing David v Robin theories, I don’t think the Govt would be criticised for paying compensation if they were following the recommendation of an independent review as per long stated policy. In fact, if they do not pay compensation they will face serious criticism on Karam and other Bain supporters. The easy thing for the Government to do is to simply rubberstamp the report and recommendations. Certainly my assumption has been that this is what the Govt would and should do.

If it has been reported correctly that the report concludes Bain is innocent on the balance of probabilities and should be compensated  and the Government is seeking a review of the report, then I can only conclude that they have serious issues with the quality of the report. If they did not, then you’d simply follow its recommendations – that would be the popular non controversial thing to do.

Auckland-based Mr Fisher was a high court judge for 15 years. He was asked by the Government to look into a compensation claim from Aaron Farmer who was accused of rape. He found in favour and Mr Farmer was awarded $350,000.

This indicates that Mr Fisher is not predisposed to assuming guilt in these reviews.

Until both the Binnie report and the subsequent Fisher report are released, I guess we won’t know what the reasons are for the review – and how substantive they were. But I don’t think this unusual step is something the Government would do lightly.

While the amount of money is insignificant at a Government level, the principles are important. If David did kill his family, then it is repugnant that profits from it by getting a large payout. If however  Robin killed his family and himself, framing David for it, then it is repugnant that he spent over a decade in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

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