Arthur Taylor, whose name never appears in the media without the words "career criminal" shackled to the front of it, has been banged up since 2005 in the maximum security wing of Auckland Prison at Paremoremo.
That's not surprising: he has a bit of form for escaping from custody. He is serving sentences for more than 150 convictions for a variety of crimes, including armed robbery, kidnapping, possession for supply of various drugs and firearms offences. Unless he is paroled, his sentences will extend into the 2020s.
Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Bush has called him "a criminal with no social or moral conscience who is an absolute burden on the country", which is what you would expect a top cop to say about a hardened crim.
But even such a staunch prisoners' advocate as Kim Workman, a former head of the Prison Service who now runs an organisation called Rethinking Crime and Punishment, says in a blog that everyone he knows shares Bush's assessment.
No one, Workman wrote, comes close to Taylor among "the prison lawyers and vexatious litigants, who [occupy] an inordinate amount of management time, usually with no productive or positive outcome".
Taylor the enthusiastic litigant was back in court last week, invoking Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill as he argued that Prime Minister John Key's re-election as the MP for Helensville in the last election was invalid because he and about 650 of his fellow prisoners (Paremoremo is in the electorate) weren't allowed to vote. The judges have reserved their decision.
Taylor's case is the kind of thing that gets decent folk choking on their tea and toast. "He wants what?" they bellow, and long for the days of chain gangs breaking rocks in the sun. But even bad people can have good ideas and it is easier to consider the latter if you set aside your feelings about the former.
The thrust of Taylor's argument is that a 2010 amendment to the Electoral Act, which banned all people in prison on election day from voting, is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. Before the amendment, only prisoners serving three or more years were prevented from voting.
When he first pursued the matter, just before the last election, Taylor and five other prisoners were seeking interim orders that would have allowed them to vote. Justice Rebecca Ellis declined that application - "Parliament had spoken for now," she said - but she took the unusual step of outlining criticisms the act had received.
Among them was the fact that a prisoner's right to vote depended entirely on the date of his or her sentencing. Someone whose term of imprisonment fell between two election dates would be unaffected, no matter how serious the crime; a fine defaulter doing a short sentence that included an election day would lose the right to vote.
It seems at best random and at worst quite unjust. If you offend against one of society's many laws and you're punished for it as the law requires, it seems over the top to deny you an entirely unrelated set of legal rights. Drunk drivers rightly lose the right to drive, but they still get health care.
Those who thunder about getting tough on prisoners would presumably prize the democratic right to vote, so they are left in an uncomfortable position. In that, they are joined by Attorney-General Chris Finlayson.
The 2010 amendment was a private member's bill by a National MP, but in a report to Parliament before it was passed into law, Finlayson said it was "unjustifiably inconsistent" with the Bill of Rights Act. Last year, his office had to do a back flip and argue before Justice Ellis that the court had no power to say Parliament acted unlawfully when it changed the law.
So in objecting to the ban, Arthur Taylor is in good company. Legal scholars and courts in Canada, the UK and Australia agree with him and make our lawmakers seem petty and vindictive.
The Waitangi Tribunal will this year hear a separate claim that the law breaches the Treaty because it disproportionately disenfranchises Maori, who make up 51 per cent of the prison population. I can hear the scoffing from here, but if nothing else, the claim should reinvigorate debate on an important matter of principle.
To paraphrase something Noam Chomsky once said about freedom of speech: if you don't believe in human rights for prisoners, you don't believe in them at all.