The alleged head of an international drug syndicate has asked a High Court judge to force prison officials to let him get a haircut so he doesn't look like a "barbarian" to the jurors at his upcoming trial.
Xavier Valent, also known as Harry Whitehead, faces charges of importing Class A and Class B drugs, as well as possession of those drugs for supply.
The 32-year-old is due to stand trial in the High Court at the end of this month, although the start may be delayed because jury trials cannot be held above level 2 of the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
Police allege Valent was a key player in a drug syndicate that imported more than 1000kg of methamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and ephedrine into New Zealand over a three-year period. He denies the allegations.
He was arrested at Italy's border on an Interpol warrant and extradited to New Zealand in October last year, and is currently held in segregation in a special "prison within a prison" at Paremoremo that is also home to the Christchurch terrorist.
To tidy himself up before the trial, Valent asked officials at Corrections for a haircut. This was refused. Prison staff instead offered him the use of clippers to shave himself.
Valent has now asked a High Court judge to scrutinise that decision, according to his application for judicial review obtained by the Herald.
"He has been in there for nine months, he is on remand," said Dr Tony Ellis, a prominent human rights lawyer.
"He said he came in as a smart young man, a nice haircut, and he [now] has a bulky beard, dishevelled hair to shoulder-length, and they won't let him have a hair cut.
"His words were, 'I look like a barbarian' ... For centuries barristers have told their clients to turn up looking well groomed and well dressed, because it has an impression on the jury. And if you are on trial for serious charges, you have got to look your best."
Ellis said Valent was aware what a time-waster the "ridiculous" issue was for the court system, but had no choice given Corrections' stance.
Valent arrived in prison with a "tidy and well-maintained hairstyle and facial hair appearance", his judicial review application states, and around six weeks later made the first request to Corrections staff for a haircut.
This was declined, and, according to the application, Valent was told he "can be provided with a basic electric hair clipper to use alone inside his cell for a period of no longer than 15 minutes whilst Corrections floor staff visually monitor him".
He "vehemently contested this alternative as being acutely insufficient recourse as it is abnormal logic to suggest a lone individual perform a full haircut on themselves and asserted it would require a second individual to effect."
According to Valent's judicial review application, Corrections staff suggested to him he should "cut all his hair off", but the length of his hair meant it would require scissors to cut.
He filed a complaint to Corrections, but received much the same answer, although with 15 minutes extra time allowed.
Valent is "disquieted due to being ill-prepared in terms of his physical appearance for future significant court appearances", his application stated, and "constantly debased by being forced to adopt and exhibit a dishevelled image that is contrary to his inherent personal dignity and self-determination".
He has asked for permission to source his own hairdresser from outside the prison, and cover any costs, if Corrections cannot arrange for a suitable person.
A Corrections spokesperson told the Herald on Sunday: "All prisons have arrangements for prisoners to receive a haircut using equipment on site but there are considerations that need to be taken into account when managing individual risks and security concerns.
"However as this matter is currently before the courts we will not be commenting further."
The facility holding Valent is based within Auckland Prison at Paremoremo and known as the Prisoners of Extreme Risk Unit.
It was set up four months after the Christchurch mosque terror attack, but its role has since been expanded and now manages other inmates, including those allegedly connected to organised crime groups.
According to Valent's judicial review application, he was placed in the unit involuntarily and for his own protection, and was denied contact with any other inmate.
As well as allegedly importing methamphetamine from countries like Mexico, Valent is charged with manufacturing the Class A drug locally in New Zealand by arranging for ingredients and materials to be supplied to a Northland meth cook.
Although Valent was living overseas, the police investigation called Operation Mystic alleges he was in complete control of the drug importation syndicate and sent daily instructions to his associates on the ground in New Zealand.
In a statement announcing the Operation Mystic arrests in February 2020, Detective Inspector Paul Newman described the quantity of drugs allegedly imported by the syndicate as "significant".
"New Zealanders are using about 13kg of methamphetamine a week according to recent wastewater analysis, so a tonne of methamphetamine or its precursor ephedrine equates to more than a year's worth of national consumption," Newman said.