Formal complaint lodged with UN over New Zealand's prisoner voting ban

Maiki Sherman
Source: 1News

A formal complaint has been lodged with the United Nations' Human Rights Committee today over the Government's lack of action to reinstate prisoner voting rights. 

The Supreme Court recently upheld a finding that removing voting rights for prisoners in 2010 was a breach of the Bill of Rights. 

However, Justice Minister Andrew Little said changing the law to allow prisoners to vote is not a priority. 

Today's claim is seeking a determination that agrees with the complaints around prisoner voting rights and requests a formal response from the New Zealand Government. 

It could lead to the Government finding itself in front of the UN to explain itself. 

Lawyer Richard Francois, who is representing prisoners, including "jailhouse lawyer" Arthur Taylor, who took the issue to the High Court, told 1 NEWS the removal of rights should be an issue for the New Zealand public. 

"It might be prisoners' rights now, but because we don't have an entrenched Bill of Rights, it could be something different tomorrow," Mr Francois said.

Mr Little, speaking at the UN overnight, said while New Zealand "has a very good human rights record, we freely acknowledge we must do more to eradicate the barriers that lead to persistent inequities". 

This did not include re-enfranchising prisoners, despite the Supreme Court and High Court rulings.

"It is somewhat ironic that [Mr Little] did speak about the fact that we could do better with our human rights record and yet this is an example of how easy it is to do better," Mr Francois said. 

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman said the focus should be on rehabilitation and the reintegration of prisoners back into society.

"We know that maintaining their human rights, maintaining an engagement with the community and broader society, like through voting, will help aid those things," Ms Ghahraman said.

She said lifting the ban needs to be put on the agenda.

"People's basic human rights have been taken away," she said. "Not only that but we've made our system of justice less effective because we know the prisoners we do hold won't be able to reintegrate as effectively."

The removal of prisoner voting rights was introduced by a National MP in 2010, and the party maintains it should remain in place. 

National leader Simon Bridges said on losing their right to vote, "Do the crime, do the time, and you suffer the consequences".