Sensible Sentencing Trust wants taxpayer funding for Petricevic crusade

Former Act Party MP David Garrett  said if the challenge fails, there is enough public interest to warrant the court costs be funded by the "public purse."   NBR reporter Hamish McNicol discusses the latest court stories on NBR Radio and on demand on MyNBR Radio.

UPDATED: Petricevic parole challenge dismissed and Rodney Hide's column on Rod Petricevic: Jail’s for treatment that fits the crime

The Sensible Sentencing Trust wants the taxpayer to fund its High Court challenge over the Parole Board's decision to release former Bridgecorp boss Rod Petricevic halfway into his six-year, 10-month sentence.

The trust today sought a judicial review of the board's decision to grant Petricevic parole, which would see him released on Monday, at a hearing in the High Court in Wellington before Justice Rebecca Ellis. The judge reserved her decision but said, given the urgency of the hearing, she expected to release her judgment today.

Former Act Party MP David Garrett, acting for the trust, said if the challenge fails, there is enough public interest to warrant the court costs be funded by the "public purse."

"This is a matter of public importance," Mr Garrett said. However, if the Sensible Sentencing Trust succeeded, then he thought costs should be paid for the Parole Board.

The High Court action is being prosecuted by lawyers acting pro bono, including Mr Garrett.

Petricevic was convicted in 2010 of deliberately making false statements to trustees and distributing offer documents containing false statements while knowing Bridgecorp was heavily in debt. The failed finance company owed $459 million to 14,500 investors when it went into receivership in 2007 and investors have since been repaid about 10c in the dollar.

The 66-year-old told the board he would retire and had no intention of offering advice or being involved in any business after his release.

This is the first time the Sensible Sentencing Trust has taken action over a white-collar crime. The organisation runs on donations from ordinary people, some of whom have lost their life savings in the finance company collapses.

Francis Cooke QC, appearing for the Parole Board, argued while the trust may be cynical about the board's decision, it had no standing to bring the review as it wasn't a direct victim of the offender's actions. The trust's interest was no different from the wider public's, something the board already considered in its decisions.

The trust "is a group in the community that has a particular view about crime and punishment," Mr Cooke said. "They do not have standing ... it would be somewhat different if it was an issue of systemic illegality but it's not, it's an individual case."

Mr Garrett told the court that trust founder Garth McVicar has advised him three members of Sensible Sentencing Trust were victims of Bridgecorp but did not want to be named. He said, aside from perhaps some of his own missteps, there had been "no lecturing on crime and punishment" in the hearing.

"The trust's views are well known but we're not here to talk about what crime and punishment should be," Mr Garrett said.

The trust had brought the review application ahead of Petricevic's release because it feared any legal challenge once he was a parolee would become long and drawn out and would have to be "funded by his friends because he is bankrupt," Mr Garrett said.

The trust is arguing the Parole Board made a legal error when relying on a single psychologist report paid for by Petricevic. He was turned down twice for parole by the board for failing to show any remorse and then released after a third hearing.

Mr Garrett told the court the only circumstance that changed in the last hearing was Petricevic paying for a private psychologist to write a report saying he now felt remorse for his actions.

"This psychologist must be the best guy since Freud" after the "remarkable transformation" for Petricevic to feel sorry for his crimes, Mr Garrett said.

Cooke said the Sensible Sentencing Trust trust's claims that Petricevic had "magically changed" held a "degree of cynicism" and also ignored the skill of the Parole Board in determining true remorse from fake sentiment, Cooke said.

"The reality is systems for assessment are very sophisticated" and ultimately the Parole Board's "paramount consideration is community safety."

The board makes its decision based on risk factors, which determine an offender's chances of recidivism based on statistics and other factors, such as the prisoner's response to psychological testing and rehabilitation, Mr Cooke said.


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