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No vote for New Zealand Prisoners

The subject was discussed recently in The Rights of Men (2)

Quinn’s Act passed in 2010 introduced a blanket ban removing the right of a prisoner to the vote. The law has been challenged by an Auckland Prison inmate, Arthur Taylor, as being inconsistent with our Treaty of Waitangi and our Bill of Rights.

A decision was released late yesterday NZ time by Justice Ellis as reported here by Radio New Zealand (RNZ).

The original block quote from RNZ is somewhat ambiguous and misleading – I have replaced it with this Yahoo report:

Inmates won’t be having their say in the upcoming election despite a judge showing sympathy for prisoners’ plight to win the vote.

On Wednesday prison litigant Arthur Taylor told the High Court at Auckland a 2010 law preventing all prisoners from voting was inconsistent with the Bill of Rights.

Previously only prisoners serving more than three years were banned from voting.

Taylor and the other inmate applicants asked for an interim order preserving prisoners’ right to vote at the upcoming election on September 20.

In her judgment on Friday, Justice Rebecca Ellis said she couldn’t grant Taylor the right to vote, but noted there was “considerable and considered support” for his position.

She set out criticisms of the bill at length – including criticism at the time from the Attorney-General that it was contrary to the Bill of Rights – to make it clear Taylor was not “some vexatious voice in the wilderness on this issue”.

The law meant a person serving a week-long sentence that coincided with the election would miss out, while a person serving a two-year sentence that didn’t coincide with the election wouldn’t receive any additional punishment, Justice Ellis said.

And mentally impaired prisoners detained in a hospital for less than three years would be able to vote, while all prisoners serving less than three-year sentences wouldn’t be able to.

But the law was clear and couldn’t have an alternate meaning that was consistent with the Bill of Rights, the Treaty of Waitangi or relevant international obligations, Justice Ellis said.

“However constitutionally objectionable [the law] might be, parliament has (for now) spoken.

“The court is unable to intervene.”

Taylor still has two judicial review applications on the subject which haven’t yet been decided.

A further report from RNZ

A professor of public law says it is no surprise the High Court has upheld a ban on prisoners voting, because the judge would have had to overturn parliamentary supremacy to remove it.

The law was changed in 2010 law to prevent anyone serving a prison sentence from voting.

Arthur Taylor and six other inmates challenged that in court, but yesterday Justice Ellis dismissed the case.

Andrew Geddis of Otago University said the ruling is predictable.

He said Justice Ellis spent 16 paragraphs criticising the law, but ultimately had little power to overturn parliamentary rule.

Mr Geddis said he doubts whether an appeal would be successful.

This to me is interesting:

It appears that the High Court has acknowledged sovereign rule and the right of parliament to dispose of human rights if it wishes, even though in this case parliament is informed by the Attorney-General, that this law is contrary to the Bill of Rights.

The court is not prepared to defend the integrity of the constitution.

If it is the Attorney-General’s place to determine compliance of legislation with the Bill of Rights then there should be a process in place where citizens can challenge that advice before parliament is allowed to rely on it.

That glimmer of hope that there would be a process that men could rely on to defend their rights, suddenly grew dimmer again.

But the greater issue is that New Zealand Citizens have no protection from a despotic Government operating outside internationally accepted decrees on the personal guarantees that a citizen should be able to expect.

This may be played out in terms of the vote for prisoners, but it becomes relevant to any other situation.

Will we get a decision on appeal within the week leading up to the election?