6 Mar 2017

Govt spends $700k fighting state abuse compo claim

7:59 am on 6 March 2017

The government has racked up nearly $700,000 in legal fees fighting a compensation case over abuse that happened in state care.

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Photo: 123.rf

The victim, known only as X, was sexually abused by another resident while a ward of the state in the early 2000s.

Documents show that over 18 months, the government spent $336,000 on Crown Law and $351,000 on external counsel.

Cooper Legal partner Amanda Hill, whose firm was acting for the victim, said the amount of compensation X will eventually get will not even come close to what the Crown is paying to fight the case.

X turned down the original settlement proposed by the government and is now awaiting a date for a hearing, after which a judge will decide on damages.

The case was just one of 700 that Ms Hill's firm was currently handling.

Ms Hill said it was one of several cases that were advancing towards a trial and the government was fighting hard to prevent that happening.

"The reason it's doing [so] is because of the potential precedent effect of a court finding."

Many of the cases on the firm's books happened after 1990, when the Bill of Rights Act was passed, she said.

"It's possible that a court would order significant damages if a breach of the Bill of Rights was found."

The court costs associated with the current case could "easily" surpass $1 million, Ms Hill said.

The government set up a Confidential Listening and Assistance Service to hear from abuse victims, which wound up in June 2015.

Its chair, Judge Carolyn Henwood, made seven recommendations, including that an independent inquiry be set up to discover the extent of the abuse.

However, the government has repeatedly resisted opening an inquiry into historic abuse, questioning what it would achieve.

Ms Hill said she supported an inquiry, as her firm's work showed the government had not learned anything from the past.

"Our clients are getting younger - our youngest client is 18 - so the Ministry [of Social Development] has clearly not learned from things that have gone wrong previously."

The ministry was using a pending restructure of Child Youth and Family as an excuse not to open an inquiry, but that restructure would not change anything, Ms Hill said.

"That's done without any understanding of what's happened earlier, no understanding of the flaws in the system."

Last week ACT became the latest political party to support calls for an inquiry, putting National at odds with all three of its government support partners.

ACT leader David Seymour said he initially backed National's position, but said he had changed his mind.

"Just getting more informed about what happened, the scale of the abuse, the number of people taken into custody... I think this is a question of public policy. It's a question of justice. It's a question of the government not being above the law."

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