One of New Zealand's longest-serving prisoners has lost an appeal to allow inmates to vote behind bars.

Arthur William Taylor, who has spent about 40 years of his life in prison, and prisoners Hinemanu Ngaronoa and Sandra Wilde - brought their cases to the Court of Appeal, arguing it was discriminatory to ban prisoners from voting.

The case was originally taken in 2013 by Taylor - a self-described "jailhouse lawyer". He also sought and won a "declaration of inconsistency" in the High Court, saying a broad-sweeping ban on prisoners' voting was an unjustified limitation on the right to vote. That decision was upheld on appeal this year, but does not mean Parliament must repeal the ban.

A 2010 law extended a ban on prisoners voting to cover all prisoners. Previously it only applied to those jailed for more than three years.

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However, the Court of Appeal today dismissed Taylor, Ngaronoa and Wilde's two appeals, in which they argued the 2010 ban was inconsistent with rules laid out in the Bill of Rights - and in particular that is was discriminatory towards Maori, who are disproportionately represented in prison.

The Court of Appeal judges said Maori and non-Maori prisoners were "treated the same way".

"Neither can vote. The policy does not have the effect, directly or indirectly, of treating the two groups differently," they ruled.

"If [the ban] is discriminatory under the Bill of Rights because the disproportionate representation of Maori in prisons means that they will be disproportionately disadvantaged, the same will apply to all prison policies that have a negative effect on prisoners' lives.

"Maori prisoners are not deprived of something that other prisoners can enjoy. Further, other groups in addition to Maori are overrepresented in prisons," they said - such as men and young people.

The proportion of Maori in prison was less than 1 per cent of the Maori population, the judges said - the same as with the non-Maori population, and therefore "so small that there is no material disadvantage".

Overall, the judges concluded that the ban did not directly or indirectly breach any of the provisions in the Bill of Rights, and dismissed the appeals.

Taylor, who has been denied parole 18 times, became infamous in 1998 after he escaped from the maximum security prison at Paremoremo north of Auckland with three others, including double murderer Graeme Burton.

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The group made their way to Coromandel, where they hunkered down in luxury holiday homes and the bush to evade authorities.

He is serving a 17-year jail sentence for serious violence and drug-related crimes.

In recent years he has been in the headlines for his role as a "jailhouse lawyer", taking a number of legal actions against the Department of Corrections, including challenging the legality of the prison smoking ban and inmates' voting rights.