Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Prisoner vote faces another setback

Rimutaka Prison, Upper Hutt. Photo / File
Rimutaka Prison, Upper Hutt. Photo / File

A further attempt by "prison lawyer" Arthur Taylor to overrule a ban on prisoners voting has been knocked back by the High Court.

The High Court has ruled that the 2010 blanket ban on all prisoners voting was not in breach of an Electoral Act provision which required at least 75 per cent of Parliament to pass a law changing voter eligibility.

In its decision, the court said that provision related to the voting age. The court also rejected the prisoners' argument that the 2010 Act was inconsistent with prisoners' rights against torture and cruel treatment, discrimination and the right to be treated with dignity.

Prior to the 2010 legislation only prisoners serving sentences of more than three years were prevented from voting.

The claim was taken by Mr Taylor and several other prisoners from Auckland and Christchurch.

It follows an earlier attempt to overturn the law last year on the grounds it breached the Bill of Rights Act. In that attempt, Taylor and other prisoners were successful in getting a "declaration of inconsistency" from the High Court which stated that the ban on all prisoners was inconsistent with the right to vote in the Bill of Rights Act.

It is understood the Crown has now appealed against that Declaration.

In the latest decision, the Court said the only "live" argument was whether the loss of the right to vote for Maori prisoners was in breach of the right to be free from discrimination. It said a Maori vote could be seen as more effective than non-Maori because of the ability to choose whether to be on the Maori roll or general roll, and Maori were over-represented in prison. However, this did not amount to discrimination under the Bill of Rights Act and there was no power for the court to invalidate the law if it breached the Treaty of Waitangi.

In last year's ruling, the High Court found it was in breach of the right to vote in the Bill of Rights Act, but noted that did not mean the law was invalid or that Parliament had to rescind it. Justice Paul Heath said the purpose of a declaration was "to draw to the attention of the New Zealand public that Parliament has enacted legislation inconsistent with a fundamental right".

- NZ Herald

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