Alfred Vincent, aged about 12, in a Standard 2 class photo from Kaiapoi School, 1949. (File photo)
An attempt has been made to free Alf Vincent, New Zealand’s longest-serving prisoner.
His lawyer, Tony Ellis, says Vincent’s continued detention is unlawful and ludicrous.
Sunday will mark 52 years since Vincent was sentenced to preventive detention, an open-ended term that was imposed on charges of indecent assault.
While his offences qualified him for indefinite detention, it could not sensibly be suggested that when Vincent was sentenced in 1968 in Christchurch Mr Justice Macarthur would have been considering a term of 50 years, Crown lawyer Austin Powell conceded.
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Vincent is understood to turn 83 in October, has dementia and is in the prison system’s high dependency unit at Rimutaka Prison, north of Wellington.
At the High Court in Wellington on Thursday, Powell said that Corrections Department officers, even doing their best, could not provide the level of care Vincent needs.
Vincent could still walk, and he was still capable of approaching other prisoners inappropriately, Powell said.
Facilities that provided care for people with his needs were all privately run and could not be compelled to take him.
In 2019 it was thought an alternative was available, and it seemed on the point of being arranged when publicity about Vincent’s case caused the directors of the institution to withdraw from the plan, Powell said.
But Ellis said the Parole Board’s decision that Vincent was still an undue risk to release, was not just irrational, it was ludicrous.
Vincent slept through Ellis’ most recent visit.
Ellis says the High Court should order Vincent’s release. The application went at short notice to a judge at the High Court in Wellington on Thursday. Justice Jill Mallon set the case down for hearing in November, on a wider legal basis than was originally intended.
Ellis had originally asked for a “writ of habeas corpus”, an ancient legal remedy that demands proof of legal detention.
If Vincent won the Crown could not appeal. In other cases in the past it had created a danger to others that the authorities could do nothing about, Powell said.
The delay until November would also allow time to get evidence from the people at Corrections who were responsible for trying to find alternatives to house Vincent, Powell said.
An updated medical report about Vincent would be sought.
Ellis said in the meantime he would also ask the Governor-General to remit Vincent’s sentence, in case the court action failed.
A lawyer has been appointed to instruct Ellis for the purposes of court proceedings because Vincent is not able. As well as his dementia he had been assessed as having an IQ of 65, with especially low verbal comprehension.
Ellis said he was concerned that a note on Vincent’s prison medical file indicated Vincent would receive palliative care only, and he was “no longer for active care”, suggesting if he became ill he would not be treated.
Vincent’s life might be in danger, and he asked for Powell and Corrections to consider that urgently.
Powell said Vincent was receiving appropriate care.
Over the years Vincent has had about 50 Parole Board hearings but so far the board deemed him an undue risk to the safety of the public. A year ago it said he still showed some sexualised behaviour which was a significant danger, and invaded other people’s space.
The board declined to consider an application for compassionate release.
In 2016 an unsuccessful attempt was made to have the Privy Council hear an appeal against Vincent’s sentence.