12 Sep 2018

Murderer to be compensated for solitary confinement breach

11:56 am on 12 September 2018

The government has agreed to pay $10,000 to a convicted murderer who was unlawfully held in solitary confinement.

Sergei Skripal was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 US spies in 2010, as part of a swap. He was later flown to the UK.

Photo: 123RF

The UN Committee Against Torture has ruled inmate John Vogel had his human rights breached in 2000 after he was confined to a cell for drug offending for 21 days - six days longer than legally allowed.

It said the solitary confinement was disproportionate and urged the government to give him fair compensation.

In a letter to Vogel's lawyer, Attorney-General David Parker said he had agreed to pay $10,000 compensation as well as covering part of his legal costs.

Vogel's lawyer Tony Ellis told Morning Report his client had failed a drug test and initially spent eight days in solitary confinement.

He appealed to a visiting judge who increased the penalty to 21 days, but the maximum allowed by law was 15 days.

Dr Ellis said the judge's reasoning was that Vogel had asked for the increase as he wanted to get off drugs, but the committee noted the Court of Appeal had rejected that, and said if a request was unlawful it could not be granted.

"If he'd asked for the death penalty, which is also unlawful, he wouldn't have got that."

The ruling was a major step forward for international human rights, Dr Ellis said.

"I had invited the government, when we had the win before the Committee Against Torture, to provide him with compensation.

"Between $10,000 and $20,000 I thought would be reasonable, and they've picked the lower number, not unsurprisingly.

"Never before have the government recognised a win before an international human rights tribunal by paying compensation.

This may well encourage more people to make international claims."

Mr Ellis said he was waiting on a decision from the government after the UN's Human Rights Committee ruled that two serial rapists had been kept in punishing conditions after their non-parole period had finished.

The committee said the government should immediately review facilitating their release, give them reparation compensation and amend the law so it doesn't happen again, he said.

"I'm looking forward to a positive response on that one as well.

"There's clearly, with this government, a change of attitude to international human rights law, which is very promising."

In a statement, Attorney-General David Parker said as well as the $10,000 ex-gratia compensation he is considering the amount to be paid towards costs.

"New Zealand respects the committee's findings and the work of the committee in upholding the international rules-based system, and promoting the universality of, and respect for, international human rights law."

As for Vogel, Mr Ellis said the case wasn't just about money.

"He's quite pleased about it, but we're seeking some extra rehabilitation for him too because he says he's had nightmares about what happened to him.

"These things are never about money."

Vogel was convicted of the 1987 murder of Auckland man Peter Hoey.

Mr Hoey was found with more than 45 stab wounds after a party at his Mt Roskill home, a scissor blade was left embedded in his side and banana skins had been thrown at his body.

After the 1988 trial, Vogel was sentenced to life in prison. He was released after a decade behind bars, but had returned to prison on drug offences when the human rights breach occurred.

Vogel remains in prison.