18 May 2016

Murderer says prison denying his human rights

4:57 pm on 18 May 2016

Convicted murderer and sex offender Phillip John Smith says his human rights have been breached after prison authorities stopped him from working on the inside.

Phillip John Smith

Phillip John Smith Photo: RNZ

Smith is awaiting trial on charges of escaping from custody and committing passport offences after he flew to South America while on temporary release in November 2014.

At the time he was serving a life sentence for murdering the father of a boy he had sexually assaulted, for kidnapping, and other charges.

Today he was back in Auckland High Court, appearing by audio-visual link and asking the court to order he be reinstated to his job - serving other prisoners food and collecting laundry.

Smith told the court he has been working inside prison for 20 years and has a clean working record.

He said some of that work was carried out in public, including on a marae and at a cemetery. He had also worked as an administrator of an inmate computer system that had since been audited and found to contain no banned material.

Smith said the decision to stop him from working was made months after his alleged escape and was arbitrary and discriminatory.

The authorities told him he had been dismissed so he could spend more time on his legal proceedings.

Smith also pointed out that the alleged escape was not from a prison, but while he was on release.

He said even with the work he was being locked in his cell for 19 hours a day and that was having an effect on his mental and physical health.

But the lawyer for the Attorney-general, Vicki McCall, said there was nothing unusual about maximum security prisoners being locked up for that long.

She said the decision to stop Smith from working was an operational decision and not one the courts should be involved in.

Ms McCall said Smith could have raised his concerns with the ombudsman or a visiting justice before applying to court, but instead he had gone straight to court.

She said the authorities' decision was not arbitrary and there had been a discussion with the regional commissioner of prisons.

Ms McCall said an internal prison investigation into Smith's escape had found he had manipulated prison staff and that he was no longer trustworthy.

She said working inside prison was an opportunity, not an expectation nor a right.

Justice Edwards has reserved her decision.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs