Compensation for wrongful conviction & imprisonment

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About compensation for wrongful conviction & imprisonment

In some circumstances, a person who has had their conviction quashed or set aside by the court can apply for compensation for the time they've spent in prison as a result of that wrongful conviction.

There’s no legal right to receive compensation from the Government for wrongful conviction and imprisonment. However, the Government, in its discretion, may decide to compensate someone who’s been wrongly convicted and imprisoned by making an ex gratia (voluntary) payment.

Compensation Guidelines

Cabinet (the Government's central decision-making body of Ministers) has established Compensation Guidelines to aid its consideration of applications for such compensation. The latest version of the Guidelines was issued in 2020.

Compensation Guidelines for wrongful conviction and imprisonment 19 August 2020 [PDF, 169 KB]

Explanatory Information - Compensation for Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment 19 August 2020 [PDF, 151 KB]

You can find more information about Cabinet's 2020 decision at:

Proactive release: New compensation guidelines for wrongful conviction and imprisonment [PDF, 756 KB]

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Main features of the Compensation Guidelines

The information below summarises the main features of the Compensation Guidelines.

Eligibility

You can make an application for compensation if:

  • you’re living at the time of the application (in other words, people can’t make an application on your behalf after your death)
  • you’ve been pardoned or had your conviction/s quashed and the criminal proceedings have finished
  • you’ve served all or part of a sentence of imprisonment for that conviction.

The Guidelines also apply if you've been convicted and imprisoned under military law – see below for further information.

Criteria for compensation

The payment of compensation is at the discretion of the Government. 

Cabinet must be satisfied that:

  • you’re innocent on the balance of probabilities
  • you’ve suffered losses of a type that can be compensated under the Guidelines
  • compensation is in the interests of justice.

Types of compensation

Pecuniary (financial) and non-pecuniary (non-financial) losses suffered after you’ve been convicted can be compensated.

Compensation includes:

  • an annual amount of $150,000 for each year in custody
  • an annual amount of up to $100,000 for loss of livelihood (loss of income) during that period
  • an amount for time spent on restrictive bail or parole
  • an amount for certain costs incurred when challenging the conviction and applying for compensation
  • an amount for large financial losses between $50,000 and $250,000.

The compensation payment can be adjusted upwards or downwards by up to $150,000 for aggravating and mitigating features of the case.

The Government can also decide to make a public apology or statement of innocence.

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Information for potential applicants

The information below is to help potential applicants understand the process for making an application under the Compensation Guidelines.

Who can apply for compensation?

If you believe you’re eligible to apply for compensation, you can make an application yourself. Alternatively, someone else, such as a lawyer, can apply on your behalf.

A lawyer can advise you on the merits of making an application and, if you go ahead, can also help you collect relevant information and prepare your submissions.

How do I apply?

You’ll need to provide information about your convictions and imprisonment, and how your convictions were quashed or set aside.

At the very least, you’ll need to explain why you’re innocent of the charges and state what evidence you’re relying on to show your innocence. As the applicant, it’s your responsibility, not the Government’s, to establish your innocence on the balance of probabilities.

Send your application, including any supporting documents and submissions, to the Minister of Justice at the following address:

Minister of Justice
Parliament Buildings
Wellington 6160

Claims for compensation relating to a military conviction

If your application concerns a military conviction, the Minister of Defence will oversee its assessment, in consultation with the Minister of Justice.

In this case, send your application for compensation to the Minister of Defence at:

Minister of Defence
Parliament Buildings
Wellington 6160

Can I get legal aid?

If a lawyer is helping you with your application, you may be able to apply for legal aid. You can find out more about legal aid on our website at:

Going to court: Legal aid

How are applications for compensation decided?

The Ministry of Justice initially considers your application and reports to the Minister of Justice.

If the Minister agrees to further assessment of your application, that will focus on:

  • whether you’re innocent on the balance of probabilities
  • whether it’s in the interests of justice to pay compensation; and
  • if so, how much compensation should be paid.

The Minister decides on a suitable assessment procedure for each application. The Minister may (but isn’t obliged to) seek independent legal advice on any aspect of your application.

If your application concerns a military offence, the Minister of Defence will oversee its assessment, in consultation with the Minister of Justice.

Cabinet must make any decision to pay compensation under the Compensation Guidelines.

Previous Guidelines

You can find an archived version of the previous Guidelines below, which were replaced by the current Guidelines in August 2020:

Read an archived version of the previous Guidelines for Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment [PDF, 1.5 MB]

 

 

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