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New Zealand Court of Appeals Upholds Prisoner's Conditions-of-Confinement Award

On September 11, 2005, the New Zealand Court of Appeals upheld and
increased the award of compensation to a prisoner for having been held in
unlawful conditions of confinement.

Christopher Taunoa, a New Zealand prisoner who is serving a life sentence,
had been held in a "behavior management regime" along with about 200 other
prisoners at Auckland Prison in Paremoremo. The regime included lengthy
solitary confinement, denial of regular linen and clothing changes, and
requiring them to clean the cell toilets, sinks and floors with a single
common bucket of water and cloth.

The High Court previously held that the conditions of confinement violated
prison regulations and the Bill of Rights Act, awarding him and four other
prisoners a $2,500 per month they endured the regime. Taunoa's portion of
the $130,000 total award was $55,000. The government appealed and the Court
of Appeals upheld the High Court's decision in all aspects, increasing
Taunoa's award to $65,000. According to Wellington lawyer Tony Ellis, who
represents Taunoa and 42 other prisoners and intends to file a class-action
suit for around 160 others, the total award, based upon the formula used in
Taunoa's case, could reach $4.5 million.

Complicating any prisoner's hopes of collecting their award is the
Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Act, which was passed by Parliament in June
2005, in response to the High Court ruling. The Act, which applies
retrospectively, allows crime victims to have priority claims against
prisoners' compensation awards.

Ellis called the Act "an appalling, nauseating piece of legislation" that
makes prisoners second-class citizens. He is planning to challenge the Act
before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which could also give the
prisoners compensation awards.

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