Calls for Govt to justify inmate voting ban

  • 14/08/2015
Calls for Govt to justify inmate voting ban

By Julia Hollingsworth

The Government needs to justify why it still has a law banning prisoners from voting on the books despite it being declared inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, a public law expert says.

Otago University's Professor Andrew Geddis spoke to Parliament's Justice Committee on Thursday, urging them to consider last month's High Court ruling that a 2010 law banning prisoners from voting was inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act.

It's the first time a New Zealand court has made such a declaration - and Prof Geddis says it sends a strong message about the legitimacy of the law.

"If they [Parliament] can't say 'here are good reasons for having the law', well then why's it on the statute books?" he told NZ Newswire.

"If they can't justify it, it shouldn't be law."

The Bill of Rights is part of New Zealand's unwritten constitution, but courts have no ability to strike out laws they believe are unconstitutional as they can in the United States.

Instead, the law remains in place and Parliament is under no obligation to do anything.

The Attorney-General warned that the law contravened the Bill of Rights Act before it was passed - but it's not the first time the Government had ignored the attorney-general, Prof Geddis said.

Government Bills carrying a warning that they could contravene the Bill of Rights virtually always passed without any changes, he said.

"We're still as a country too happy to see people's rights being limited," Prof Geddis said.

"To see it happen so often indicates that there's a degree of political comfortableness with limiting rights without good enough reason."

A spokesman for Justice Minister Amy Adams told NZ Newswire the Crown was still considering the implications of the judgment.

Before the law was enacted, only prisoners serving sentences of more than three years were prohibited from voting.