Govt could get terminally ill prisoner released straight away - lawyer

1:19 pm on 7 November 2016

Corrections Minister Judith Collins is wrong to say she has no power to release the terminally ill prisoner Vicki Letele, says a Wellington lawyer.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins and dying prisoner Vicki Letele

Corrections Minister Judith Collins and dying prisoner Vicki Letele Photo: RNZ

Letele is dying from stomach cancer, while serving a sentence of three years and two months for fraud.

Her appeal for compassionate release to see out her final months of life at home has been denied, with authorities saying she can get high quality treatment in prison.

Corrections chief executive Ray Smith has asked for a review of her case and was expecting a report from medical advisors by Thursday. He will decide after that whether to apply to the Parole Board for compassionate release.

Ms Collins told Morning Report the Parole Board could take another look at the case, but she had no power to interfere.

But lawyer Graeme Edgeler said she was mistaken.

"It's not a power for Judith Collins to direct Corrections to do anything, it's a power of Judith Collins as a member of Cabinet to - along with her other Cabinet colleagues - [to] advise the Governor General to respite Vicki Letele's sentence."

Mr Edgeler said Cabinet had the power under Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor General of New Zealand, Clause 11, Exercise of prerogative of mercy.

He said the Parole Board was a better option because it was independent of political pressure and had the expertise.

But there was nothing to stop the government getting involved, said Mr Edgeler.

"The government could take whatever advice it needed, it can make the decision, someone puts the form in front of the Governor General, she signs it and Ms Letele could be released as quickly as the government wanted."

Vicki Letele's family is due to meet with Corrections staff today to discuss visiting procedures.

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