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New Zealand Court Decision: Voting Ban Violates Human Rights of Prisoners

by Monte McCoin

On May 26, 2017, the Court of Appeal of New Zealand issued a decision in the case of Attorney General v. Taylor, which upheld High Court Justice Paul Heath’s July 25, 2015 determination that a blanket ban on the ability of prisoners to vote was a violation of the nation’s Bill of Rights.

In December 2010, the New Zealand Parliament amended the Electoral Act of 1993 to exclude all prisoners from voting in the country’s elections. Previously, the Act restricted the voting prohibition to prisoners sentenced to three or more years by disqualifying them from registering to vote. A group of five plaintiffs, all disenfranchised prisoners except one, filed suit against New Zealand’s Attorney General alleging that the 2010 amendment was inconsistent with the right to vote affirmed and protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act of 1990. Justice Heath agreed and the Attorney General appealed.

Court of Appeal Justices Kós, Randerson, Wild, French and Miller heard the case in October 2016 and considered the High Court’s ruling in terms of jurisdictional issues, human rights issues and the legislature’s power to pass laws. In a 60-page ruling, the appellate court agreed with Justice Heath’s determination and upheld the ruling in favor of the plaintiffs. The Court of Appeal also awarded costs to four of the five prisoners who were not previously represented by counsel. See: Attorney General v. Taylor, CA470/2015 (2017) NZCA 215. 

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Related legal case

Attorney General v. Taylor