Opinion: The interview Corrections spent $86,000 trying to stop

Arthur Taylor (File)
Arthur Taylor (File)

By Lisa Owen

$86,000 dollars is a lot of money. It's what the Department of Corrections has paid in legal fees to try and stop me interviewing career criminal Arthur Taylor. $86.094 to be exact.

Opinion: The interview Corrections spent $86,000 trying to stop


It all started more than three years ago, when the Auckland Prison inmate took on a posse of lawyers over moves to ban smoking in our prisons. The jailhouse lawyer, who by his own count has spent more than 35 years behind bars, smoked the opposition. The High Court ruled in his favour -- not once, but twice.

Arthur Taylor is not a smoker, but he is many other things according to his rap sheet -- bank robber, burglar, prolific fraudster and drug baron.  He has more than 150 convictions.

Mike Bush, who's now the Police Commissioner, once described Taylor as "a criminal with no moral or social conscience, who is an absolute burden on this country".

So while Taylor's smart enough to out-argue some of our top legal minds, he's apparently not smart enough to learn his lesson when it comes to obeying our laws. 

'Why?' I wondered.  Followed by, 'Why not ask him yourself?'.

I applied to the Department of Corrections to interview Taylor. They declined. Spotting that they too hadn't followed the rules, I applied again and -- you guessed it -- was turned down again.

Arthur Taylor took offence on my behalf and then took Corrections all the way to the Appeal Court.

During that time he also launched a multi-pronged legal attack on the law banning all prisoners from voting. 

His 2015 bid to overturn the result in the Prime Minister's Helensville electorate was tossed out.

But Taylor scored a significant victory when the High Court declared last year that the law banning prisoners from voting was in direct conflict with the Bill of Rights, which fiercely protects our right to go to the ballot box.

Oh and this week -- some three years on -- I'm going to film an interview with Arthur Taylor because he won that case too.

Opinion: The interview Corrections spent $86,000 trying to stop

That won't thrill everyone. But let's be clear. The Appeal Court doesn't think any old prisoner should be allowed to sit down for a chat with the media, and actually says interviews are "unlikely to be routinely permitted".

But in Taylor's case the Court doesn't believe he's "seeking publicity for his own sake" and says he has considerable skills as an advocate for prisoner rights.

Ponder this too: the Government's attempt to reduce recidivism by 25 percent by next year has not only stalled, it's rolling backwards. Corrections' own analysis shows it may be dealing with a smaller core group of reoffenders, but they're committing more crimes.

That brings us back my original question -- why does a smart man keep offending? I intend to ask Taylor that.

He's had more than three and half decades to consider the answer. 

You can see Lisa Owen's exclusive interview with Arthur Taylor on The Nation, Saturday 9.30am, Sunday 10am and Monday 11pm on TV3.