The country’s highest court has ruled that the High Court was acting within its powers when it declared legislation banning prisoner voting is a breach of New Zealand’s human rights laws.
The Supreme Court ruled courts have the power to make a statement of declaration when laws are inconsistent with the bill of rights. It follows a lengthy legal battle brought by jailhouse lawyer Arthur Taylor who, in 2013, took the Government to the High Court in a fight to get prisoners the vote.
The landmark finding comes as Parliament carries out its routine review of New Zealand’s electoral laws.
In 2015, the High Court made a “declaration of inconsistency” after hearing Taylor’s case, saying the 2010 extension of the voting ban to all prisoners – under the Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Act – infringed on New Zealanders’ right to vote, which is enshrined in the Bill of Rights Act.
This was the first time a court had made a declaration of this type. And while the declaration does not change the law, it could be used in support of future arguments over the amendment of the law.
The declaration sends a message to Parliament that the law it passed is indefensible as it limits individual rights without reasonable justification.