Today we have an interesting case being heard in the New Zealand High Court, on the right of a prisoner to vote. Not a prisoner, eh …
… not expecting to be a prisoner anytime soon?
… doesn’t affect me?
Go back to The Rights of Men.
Looking at the current situation:
New Zealand has by international comparison a high rate of imprisonment per capita, and yes, they are mostly men.
Prisoners sentenced to imprisonment on or after 16 December 2010 are not entitled to vote.
Source: Department of Corrections
How did this come about?
Prior to 2010, (if you refer to the link above) you will see many prisoners were eligable to vote, however a private member’s bill from National MP Paul Quinn changed that.
Bernard “Paul” Quinn is a New Zealand rugby union player and politician and a member of the National Party. He was elected into the 49th New Zealand Parliament in 2008 by way of the party list and served for one term until 2011.
There are two issues:
That women are increasingly being sentenced to home detention rather than imprisonment. (Home detention is being subjected to residential condition, rather than a loss of liberty.)
This would discriminate against men.
Is this simply a legal issue – subject to the law – not a political issue subject to political policy and politician’s opinions?
This brings into question other law unconstitutionally processed by parliament; we’ll come back to that.
What do our politicians think about this situation anyway?
95(b)FM has compiled a cross section of political party views. In Summary:
The Conservatives: You’ve committed a crime, no vote.
National Party: Won’t comment as the legislation is being challenged in the courts.
Labour: Should go back to the way it was before.
Internet Party: Should go back to the way it was before but would engage in further debate.
ACT: Supported Quinn’s legislation but that was probably wrong.
NZ First: Prisoners should only lose the right to liberty, not human rights or democratic rights.
Mana Party: No vote is unconstitutional and a breach of human rights.
Greens: Refers to international decisions in the UK Supreme Court and European Court.
Maori Party: Didn’t understand the question.
United Future: Dunne know what he thinks about it.
(The United Kingdom still holds strong to the medieval principle of ‘civic death’ allowing only remand prisoners to vote, but the European Court has ruled the blanket ban against prisoners voting infringes human rights law – it remains a large on-going dispute.)
Later addition of the 95(b)FM Summary: Jamie Whyte (ACT) goes with the audience.
What are your thoughts about prisoners getting the vote?
Should New Zealand men be concerned about this decision?
New Zealand grew up primarily under the Westminster system (the criminal law system) along with degrees of civil law (the basis of European Law). Feminist legal activists deal mainly in civil law; they consider criminal law to be patriarchal but convenient when it can be used to their advantage.
One of the worst examples we have of this is in NZ is the Domestic Violence Act, which creates a civil protection order. However a breach of a protection order is a crime, prosecuted in the criminal jurisdiction and punishable by imprisonment. (Remember we’ve seen fathers gaoled for sending their children Christmas cards)
There is a flash point is this case which must determine if a crime, which is primarily a wrong against society and punishable by the state, removes your civil right as a citizen to be eligible to the participate in any election.
Justice Ellis will deliver a decision by Friday, a week out from the election.
Looking back further to a previous decision from the High Court in May of this year:
A High Court judge will decide whether a career criminal can continue his fight to win prisoners the right to vote.
Arthur Taylor and four prisoners at the Christchurch Women’s Prison want the High Court to declare that the legislation (Quinn’s Act) breaches the Bill of Rights.
The Attorney-General and the head of the Department of Corrections are seeking to have the application struck out, saying it is an abuse of process.
John Pike, QC, the lawyer for the Attorney-General, said there was uncertainty as to whether the court had the power to say Parliament acted unlawfully when it passed the law.
Mr Pike said judges can comment on laws, but making a declaration would create a conflict between the courts and Parliament.
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” – John F. Kennedy
Many will not be aware that this was one of Ben Easton’s main arguments, particularly toward the Care of Children Act, which was passed without the Attorney-General having tabled a certificate of compliance (tabled subsequently).
What the Attorney-General was saying, is that it is their office that determines whether any legislation before the House of Representatives complies with the Bill of Rights. When the legislation is passed there is no argument as to it being compliant.
This is an abuse of process that has gone on far too long, and not only one that resulted in the rapid turnover of Attorney-Generals during the last Labour government, but one that has been detrimental to the wellbeing of New Zealand men – the irony is that this feminist tool has been taken away by a bloke in jail and four female prisoners.
The High Court has clarified the situation saying that our courts determine whether legislation is constitutional.
It’s a new window of opportunity for men who find themselves subjected to effects of current and future unconstitutional legislation. Refer back the case outlined in the previous post The Rights of Men.
Regardless of the end result of the current case – whether prisoners get to vote or not – the right to challenge the constitutional integrity of legislation will hold the credibility of the Attorney General to account, and make future governments more accountable. Let’s not forget that it was prisoners who fought for and defended that right.
One of the foundations of human rights is duty to our fellow man, that we stand together for the preservation of our human rights – good luck to those who take challenges to the High Court on behalf on men.