Court correct in prisoner voting case
The High Court was acting within its power when it declared prison inmates had the right to vote, the Supreme Court has ruled.
In 2013, veteran criminal and ‘‘prison lawyer’’ Arthur Taylor successfully took the Government to the High Court over prisoners’ rights to vote. Five years on, the Supreme Court has upheld the original High Court decision.
The attorney-general appealed that decision to the country’s highest court.
In the Supreme Court judgment, Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias said Taylor was right to apply for a declaration that a law change in 2010 was in breach of the rights of sentenced prisoners to vote.
‘‘Mr Taylor cannot be treated as a busy-body with no sufficient interest in vindication of the rights of prisoners,’’ she said.
Taylor had sought a declaration that the blanket ban on prisoners voting contradicted basic human rights. At the heart of the case put to the Supreme Court in March was that voting was a protected right that required a 75 per cent ‘‘super majority’’ of Parliament to change it, which the 2010 law did not have.
In 1993, Parliament was unanimous that anyone serving a sentence of three years or more should be deprived of their vote.
However, the 2010 law change meant all prisoners serving a sentence of imprisonment were banned from voting.
The ban on all prisoners voting was passed with a simple majority.
In 2015, Justice Paul Heath formally declared the ban to be inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
The Human Rights Commission welcomed the Supreme Court judgment in the landmark case and had participated as an intervener in the Taylor litigation at the Court of Appeal and in the Supreme Court.