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Government seeks advice on prisoner compo

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 26/09/2016

The government isn't sure about whether it has to pay compensation to prisoners whose release dates were wrongly calculated and has asked the Crown Law Office for advice, Prime Minister John Key says.

The Supreme Court ruled last week that the Department of Corrections had wrongly interpreted the law, and on Friday 21 prisoners were released.

Another 500 are affected and their release dates are being recalculated.

"In terms of where we go from here, and whether compensation could or should be paid, it's very uncertain," Mr Key said at his post-cabinet press conference on Monday.

"We have asked the Crown Law Office for advice, we will work our way through it over time."

Mr Key says there's no hard and fast formula for compensation for prisoners held in jail for longer than they should have been.

"Whether the government needs to pay compensation is still to be determined," he said.

"There's a big range of options, I guess that (compensation) is potentially one of them."

Mr Key says it wasn't an error by the department, it's a matter of the interpretation of the law.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins on Friday told NZ Newswire there had been four Court of Appeal rulings on the issue, and each time the court ruled that the department was correctly interpreting the law.

"The Supreme Court ruling overturned 14 years of jurisprudence ... we now have an entirely different interpretation, which is unappealable, and therefore Corrections will comply with it."

Mr Collins said she thought compensation was unlikely.

"It's very clear any claim would be very difficult to bring, given that Corrections was complying with the law as it was, having been interpreted by the Court of Appeal on four occasions," she said.

"My advice is that any claims for compensation would be vigorously defended."

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