20 Sep 2010

Snag over bill to stop prisoners voting

9:09 pm on 20 September 2010

A Parliamentary select committee considering a bill seeking to disenfranchise all prisoners has made a recommendation which could inadvertently lead to inmates being able to vote again.

Under current law, any prisoner serving a sentence of more than than three years is not allowed to cast a vote.

The Law and Order select committee has considered the Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill, a members' bill in the name of National MP Paul Quinn.

It has recommended repealing the relevant section of the Electoral Act, and replacing it with a provision that would mean the law only applied to those sentenced after the 2010 amendment was passed.

Associate professor of law at Otago University, Andrew Geddis, says because the majority members of the committee tried to avoid any scrutiny or criticism of the measure, they didn't get the expert advice they needed, and have ended up doing something stupid.

Mr Geddis says there is no justification for the legislation, anyway.

He says 51 of the submissions were against it, and just two were in favour, one of which was from the bill's sponsor, Paul Quinn.

The Labour Party says the mistake made by a select committee is no surprise, as it was sent to the wrong committee in the first place.

Law and Order spokesperson Clayton Cosgrove says the bill should have been considered by the Justice and Electoral select committee, where officials would have been better qualified to advise on the bill.

Mr Cosgrove says Labour opposed the bill and the mistake illustrates what a botch-up the process has been.

Radio New Zealand's political staff say lawmakers are likely to rectify the error in later stages of the bill's progress.