Prisoners should be allowed to vote, High Court rules

The law banning prisoners from voting has recently been found inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act, a declaration that is first of its kind.

Prisoner Arthur William Taylor is one of the inmates who has campaigned for the right of prisoners to vote. He and five other inmates argued that the Electoral (Disqualification of Selected Prisoners) Amendment Act 2012–which said that people in prison on election day are unable to vote–was inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Justice Paul Heath has formally made a declaration agreeing that the law is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act.

Greens, Labour, and the Maori party voted against the law in 2010.

Justice Heath said that there were a number of inconsistencies, for instance: low-level offenders cannot vote if their sentence happens simultaneously with the general election.

“Someone who goes to prison because he or she has no suitable home detention address loses the right to vote, whereas someone sentenced to home detention does not,” a statement from the court said.

In 2014, Taylor was unsuccessful to have a court let prisoners and himself to vote in the general election.

Justice Heath explained that the formal declaration was also made to make the public see that Parliament had enacted legislation that is inconsistent with a fundamental right.

Meanwhile, Greens said that the voting ban needs to be repealed.

“This is an unprecedented ruling by the High Court which has made a declaration that there is an inconsistency between the Bill of Rights Act and not allowing prisoners to vote,” said Green Party justice spokesperson David Clendon.

“National now needs to immediately introduce legislation that will make our laws consistent with the Court’s ruling and our human rights obligations.” he added.