Media release: Welcome prisoner voting decisions from the Supreme Court

The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties welcomes the decision by the Supreme Court today, that the legislation that denied persons convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of less than 3 years the right to vote, contravenes the protections provided in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

Of even more significance is the clear endorsement by the Court that judges do indeed have the power to declare that a statute is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. We look forward to the government's proposed changes to the law that will not only make this ability explicit, but also oblige Parliament to respond to any such declaration. Our Bill of Rights is not very powerful so any additional checks on Parliament's unjustified limitation of our rights is to be welcomed.

The two small amendments limiting prisoner voting made in 2010 to the Electoral Act 1993 were quite out of proportion to the significance of the action taken at that time. The Chief Justice has described that legislation as “shockingly casual”. The very small number of prisoners who were affected by the ban only serves to illustrate just how punitive and petty the whole process was.  “With a slash of the pen a fundamental democratic right was extinguished” said Council Chairperson, Thomas Beagle.

Mr Beagle noted that this final decision was a first step towards remedying that injustice. "It is a clear direction to Parliament to recognise that prisoners are part of our society and as such are entitled to vote." Nearly every person serving a prison sentence will one day re-enter the community, and this can be a significant way to assist their re-habilitation.

“Even better,” said Mr Beagle “is a Parliament that is prepared to remove the ban on voting for all prisoners regardless of the length of their sentence. A society is judged on the humane way in which it treats all its citizens, even those who have erred.”

Contact: Thomas Beagle, thomas@nzccl.org.nz, +64-21-805040

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