10 May 2017

Push for prisoners' voting rights continues

4:18 pm on 10 May 2017

A career criminal's legal challenge to a ban on prisoner voting has begun in the Court of Appeal.

Arthur Taylor in the High Court at Auckland.

Arthur Taylor (left) during the prisoners' voting case in the High Court at Auckland in 2015. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker-Wilson

Arthur Taylor and six other inmates claim they were unlawfully barred from voting in the 2014 general election.

In 2010 Parliament passed a law preventing all sentenced prisoners from voting, regardless of the length of their sentence.

However earlier electoral legislation allowed prisoners serving a jail term of less than three years to vote.

At the time the legislation was being considered, the Attorney-General warned Parliament that a blanket ban contravened the Bill of Rights, but the law was passed anyway.

Under New Zealand law, Parliament can pass legislation that is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights if there are justifiable grounds for doing so.

At an earlier hearing, the High Court ruled against Taylor, saying while the ban was inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, it could not overturn the legislation because Parliament had passed it lawfully.

In a following case in 2016, Taylor and the other inmates claimed that the ban was not lawful, because changes to who could vote needed to be passed with a 75 percent majority.

However, the High Court ruled in its judgment that the 75 percent majority only applied to changing the voting age.

The group also tried to argue that Māori prisoners had their human rights breached, because the large number of Māori prisoners meant they were disproportionately affected by the ban.

The court also dismissed that claim.

Taylor is currently serving a 17-year cumulative sentence in the high-security A Block at Paremoremo and will be released in 2022, unless he is granted parole earlier.