16 Mar 2017

Murderer's rights breached over toupee

7:08 pm on 16 March 2017

The High Court has ruled the Corrections Department breached the rights of Phillip John Smith by not letting him wear a toupee behind bars.

Smith is serving a life sentence for murdering the father of a boy he was sexually abusing.

Phillip Smith

Phillip John Smith Photo: RNZ / Murielle Baker

Smith challenged a decision by the Director of Auckland Prison at Paremoremo to not allow him to have a custom-made hairpiece.

Corrections withdrew the permission when Smith was reclassified as a maximum security prisoner after fleeing to South America.

Smith argued that by wearing the partial wig he was exercising his right to freedom of expression, and Corrections had failed to treat him with humanity and dignity.

The judge said the inmate's fundamental right to freedom of expression had been ignored, and the decision had not been properly explained.

He has given Corrections 14 days to make a fresh decision and finalise the reasons for it.

Otago University Dean of Law Mark Henaghan said Corrections could again decide not to let Smith wear a toupee while he was behind bars.

The department did not account for Smith's right to freedom of expression before denying him the toupee, but could still find justifiable reasons, Prof Henaghan said.

The department said it would not comment until it has had more time to consider the judgment.

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