R v Bassett  NZDC 5067
Published 27 April 2021
Sentencing — arson — prison protest — prison conditions — prisoners' rights — prisoner security classification — cumulative vs concurrent sentences — Sentencing Act 2002, s 8H — McAllister v Police  NZHC 828 — R v Munro CA132/02, 24 July 2002 — Chan v R  NZCA 486.
The defendant appeared for sentence on a charge of arson. At the time of the offending she and her two co-offenders were confined to the maximum security wing of Auckland Women's Prison. They managed to assemble a pile of their belongings in the foyer of the maximum security wing and then set it on fire. The prison authorities extinguished the fire soon afterwards with no injuries to any person.
The defendant pointed to the harsh conditions inside the maximum security wing, which included failure to provide minimum requirements, and frequent use of pepper spray by guards to extract the prisoners from their cells. Although the fire caused damage to the inside of the prison, the Court was satisfied that there was little danger to prisoners or staff, and that the defendant's motivation in setting the fire was to protest her treatment in the prison. In an earlier hearing against the defendant, the Corrections Department had effectively chosen not to respond the defendant's allegations of ill-treatment. However, department records submitted as evidence essentially confirmed the defendant's claims.
The Court observed that the defendant's record of being a troublesome prisoner did not excuse her treatment by the prison authorities. Further the Court considered that to add a cumulative sentence to the sentence that the defendant was serving already would be disproportionately severe. The sentence was 15 months' imprisonment, to be served concurrently.
Judgment Date: 22 March 2021