Disappointment as select committee recommends taking vote from prisoners
The Law and Order Select Committee has recommended (PDF) that the bill to strip the vote from all prisoners should be passed. The Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Prisoners) Amendment Bill, a private member's bill submitted by National's Paul Quinn, takes the vote away from prisoners sentenced to less than 3 years in jail (prisoners sentenced to over 3 years have already lost the vote).
The NZ Council for Civil Liberties made a submission against the Bill, reiterating the importance of the right to vote:
…the ability to vote is of such fundamental importance in a democratic society that any move to weaken further the idea of universal suffrage by removing the vote for a certain class of person is to be strongly resisted.
The Council did support the idea of amending the Bill, but thought that it should be changed in the opposite direction so that all prisoners have the right to vote:
Most of those persons currently in prison are one day going to be released into our society when their sentences are finished, and this particular change can be a signal to them that, regardless of their past offences, they are still members of our society.
We are disappointed that a majority of the Committee have ignored our views and those of nearly all of the other submitters, preferring to support this vindictive and vengeful law change. The Labour and Green members of the Select Committee also opposed the change:
Labour: No evidence was submitted to the committee that could suggest that this bill would show any positive influence on reducing crime or recidivism. … With no evidence of any positive change for society, there is no justification for truncating an individual right under the Bill of Rights Act.
Greens: This bill will do nothing to make our society safer; if anything it will make it more dangerous by further marginalising prisoners.
The changes also go against the law in other countries with a similar legal and political heritage to ours. As the New Zealand Law Society notes:
In comparable jurisdictions such as Canada, Ireland, South Africa, and Australia, the highest courts have in the last ten years held that blanket bans on the right of prisoners to vote are unlawful or unconstitutional. The European Court of Human Rights has held similarly in relation to a blanket ban on prisoners voting in the United Kingdom.
This law change is inconsistent with New Zealand's Bill of Rights Act and our obligations under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It reflects poorly on the committee members who supported it and, if passed, will reflect poorly on Parliament and our country. We urge Parliament to vote against it.