Human rights lawyer, ex-inmate urge Government to give prisoners back the right to vote

Source: 1News

A human rights lawyer and a former prisoner are welcoming the Waitangi Tribunal's ruling in favour of prisoners having the right to vote.

Richard Francois and Arthur Taylor told TVNZ1's Breakfast today they are calling on the Government to reverse the ban set in 2010 which took rights for prisoners to vote in elections away.

A new report from the Waitangi Tribunal released today says the law discriminates against Māori who make up more than half of New Zealand's prison population.

The tribunal found the Crown to be in breach of the Waitangi principles and wants to see all prisoners enrolled to vote in time for the 2020 general election.

The last time the act was touched was in 2010 when the National-led government passed an amendment which stripped all prisoners of the right to vote.

Jailhouse lawyer Arthur Taylor said at the time Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Justice Minister Andrew Little talked about reversing the changes if they were in power but yet nothing had been done.

"We call them to act now. Nevermind words, we want action," he said, adding he was rapt with the decision from the tribunal.

Mr Taylor, a high-profile former prison inmate who served time in Auckland Prison at Paremoremo, spent 38 years behind bars and had a total of 152 convictions.

He was labelled as a "prisoner lawyer" after initiating court action on behalf of his own and other prisoners' right.

While serving his time Mr Taylor said he was a "token Pākehā" amid suffering Māori, and claimed the ruling from the then-government was "plain out vindictiveness".

At the time the ruling was that if someone commits crime that sends them to prison they forfeit the right to vote, but Mr Taylor said the tribunal looked at the argument and said the punishment is actually going to prison.

"If prisoners retain all sorts of civil rights, like they retain the right not to be treated inhumanely, the retain the right not to be tortured - this is one of the rights they retain," he said. "The punishment is going to prison and being locked away."

Mr Francois, a lawyer, said the tribunal's report agreed with what he'd been fighting for. He had argued in court the law was a breach of the right to vote but was given a declaration of inconsistency, then argued it was discriminatory to Māori but was unsuccessful.

"But the Waitangi Tribunal has come out and said that we are actually right, it is disproportionately impacting on Māori not only individually but also within the community to an extent that it could actually result in one more electorate if all Māori were entitled to vote."

Mr Francois also claimed it was made more difficult for ex-inmates to vote.

"While you're automatically taken off role when you go into prison, when you are released you're not automatically put back on the roll," he said.

"In fact the onus then goes onto the prisoner who's been released to fill out all the documents and go through the procedures to get back on the roll which for some people is not an easy thing, and by that stage they've also become quite disillusioned by the whole system."

Mr Taylor said, "everything should be done to promote their inclusiveness in the community they're eventually going to return to", adding that if they've got income they pay taxes like every other Kiwi therefore should have a say in how that taxation is spent.