7 December 2012

Regular readers of this blog will be uncertain of the writer’s opinion. My purpose is to promote integrity discussions not to propound a viewpoint. In general, posts capture media commentary on a topic of the day.

Today is different.  Together with other staff in the Department of Corrections, I take pride in the resolution of the Susan Couch claim against the Crown.  Ms Couch was severely injured in a robbery.  The assailant was under Corrections supervision because of previous offending.  For over ten years lawyers have debated whether there was a legal responsibility. The law is not clear.

The Kiwis Count survey indicates that New Zealanders trust public servants to “do the right thing”.  This has been reinforced in repeated surveys. Doing the right thing is what people expect. It is an outcome of good government.

The focus of the Corrections chief executive has been to “do the right thing”.  The Department has been through a restructure recently. The purpose is to better enable its staff to be accountable, to take new approaches to get better outcomes, to make a difference. The chief executive has modelled those values and worked with Ms Couch to settle the differences she has with Corrections.

His intervention is novel .  He redirected the lawyers from their long, windy and expensive road. They were committed to good legal case management, not to a good case outcome.   News reports indicate that the chief executive met with Ms Couch to find out how her needs could be met.  She wanted assurance that her unfortunate experience would not recur.  That, of course, is what everyone expects of the Department. Ms Couch sees her claim for $500,000 as a reminder to the Department of its responsibilities.

Settling this case addresses Ms Couch’s needs. It is fair to her and the tax payer. It avoids the inevitable costs of a lengthy trial. The outcome though appearing logical to most people, was not inevitable.   The proceedings so far have involved court decisions and appeals against those decisions. Continuing that process would not serve Ms Couch’s best interests.

 Saturday will be the eleventh anniversary of the robbery during which Ms Couch was assaulted. Taking a different approach got a better outcome.  Ms Couch has indicated that she can move on. All New Zealanders are the better for the chief executive taking the decision to settle with her.