Some of the country's most high profile inmates at New Zealand's toughest prison are demanding compensation and an apology from the Department of Corrections over a mass strip search which they claim is unlawful.
Led by "jailhouse lawyer" and long-serving inmate Arthur Taylor, the group includes infamous prison escapee Phillip John Smith, murderer Liam Reid, international drug smuggler David Ikenna Obiaga, sex offenders Karl Richard Smith and Larry Gordon Cant and carjacker Tony Temoananui and Jacob Komene who broke into his 95-year-old neighbour's home and stabbed him in the head.
The Herald has been given a copy of the complaint, filed in December, which claims 18 inmates at Auckland Prison were subjected to an unlawful "blanket strip search" on October 21.
The search came after six prison officers were attacked by inmates at the maximum security prison at Paremoremo, north of Auckland.
During the attack three guards suffered stab wounds to their heads, necks, hands and shoulders.
Following the attack on a landing in C Block, Taylor and his fellow inmates claim the blanket strip search was instigated in the prison's A, B, D and special needs blocks.
Taylor claims that such searches are unlawful and is seeking a formal apology from Corrections and $600 in compensation for each inmate.
He alleges the Corrections Act does not authorise blanket strip searches and that the search the inmates were subjected to was "unfair, unreasonable and in breach of the act.
"No reasons were given for any of the strip searches that were undertaken against any of the prisoners that are signatories to this complaint," Taylor wrote.
Under the act, a prison officer may conduct a strip search of an inmate if they have "reasonable grounds for believing the prisoner has in his or her possession an unauthorised item".
The officer must obtain the approval of their manager to conduct the search.
Taylor cited Supreme Court, High Court and Court of Appeal rulings within the complaint that he says "have made it clear to the Department of Corrections that blanket strip searches are unlawful".
He said the search on October 21 involved about 196 prisoners.
"There is no doubt that the strip search of all prisoners in the Alpha, Bravo, Delta and special needs blocks at Auckland Prison was a blanket strip search," he said.
"There could not have possibly been reasonable grounds to suspect that every single one of those prisoners possessed an unauthorised item... no unauthorised items were found."
He said the issue was "very serious" and described blanket searches as cruel, degrading and "disproportionately severe treatment or punishment".
"Accordingly, there will need to be accountability and compensation for all of the prisoners that are signatories to this complaint," Taylor stated.
"The signatories also believe that the Department of Corrections should consider compensating every other prisoner that was strip searched without reasonable grounds."
If the complaint was upheld in relation to all 196 inmates who Taylor claims were affected, Corrections could face a compensation bill of $117,600.
Taylor said the amount of $600 was set by the Court of Appeal as a "quantum for an unlawful strip search".
"If a settlement cannot be reached, public law compensation for that same amount will be claimed from the High Court," his complaint read.
Corrections acting regional Commissioner Alastair Riach confirmed the complaint was being considered.
"The Department has received a complaint from a number of prisoners about a strip search that occurred at Auckland Prison following four separate incidents of assaults on staff, some of which included improvised weapons," he told the Herald.
"We are currently working towards a resolution for this complaint and are unable to comment any further until the complaint has been resolved."
The complaint is not the first time Taylor has taken legal action against Corrections.
In recent years the self-proclaimed "jailhouse lawyer" has successfully challenged the legality of the prison smoking ban and inmates' voting rights.
Karl Richard Smith
Liam James Reid
Moses Neherana Birch
Phillip John Smith
Tremain Ngatote Roberts
David Ikenna Obiaga
Jimmy Awarua Lemon
Larry Gordon Cant
Mai Kaira Edmonds
Rere Tupou Pumipi
Tony John Temoananui
Tyrone Marvin George
Definition of a strip search
According to the Corrections Act a strip search may require the person being searched to remove, raise, lower, or open all or any of that latter person's clothing.
For the purpose of facilitating a strip search, the person conducting the search may require the person being searched to do all or any of the following:
(a) open his or her mouth:
(b) display the palms of his or her hands:
(c) display the soles of his or her feet:
(d) lift or rub his or her hair:
(e) raise his or her arms to expose his or her armpits:
(f) with his or her legs spread apart, bend his or her knees until his or her buttocks are adjacent to his or her heels:
(g) lift or raise any part of his or her body (including, for example, rolls of fat, genitalia, and breasts).
Authority to conduct a strip search includes the authority to conduct a visual examination (whether or not facilitated by any instrument or device designed to illuminate or magnify) of the mouth, nose, ears, and anal and genital areas; but does not authorise the insertion of any instrument, device, or thing into any orifice of those kinds.