Balding murderer and sex offender Phillip John Smith has told a court prison authorities are violating his human rights because they refuse to let him don a toupee.

Smith is suing Corrections in the High Court at Auckland because they have prevented him wearing a hairpiece ever since he used one as part of a disguise to flee to Rio de Janeiro in November 2014.

At the time of his escape he was on a temporary release while serving a life sentence for the 1995 murder of the father of a 12-year-old Wellington boy he had been molesting.

Representing himself at the judicial review on Monday, Smith said the days after he was returned to custody were among the lowest in his life because New Zealand newspapers ran pictures of him appearing bald on their front pages.


"I felt belittled, degraded and humiliated," he said.

He told the court he began balding in his early 20s and hairpieces gave him the confidence to present himself in public.

Prison authorities had not given him a valid reason why he could not wear a hairpiece and used exaggerated concerns about security to justify their decision, he said.

He said their decision was not proportionate to the risks and akin to using a sledgehammer to crush a nut, which failed to treat him with humanity and dignity.

Crown lawyer Vicki McCall, representing the Attorney-General on behalf of Corrections, opened her statement saying the prison's decision had been an operational matter the courts should be reluctant to interfere with.

Earlier Smith was brought into the courtroom handcuffed to a police officer and requested the judge refuse a media application to film him because of his sensitivity about being bald.

The hearing continues.