Blanket ban on prisoner voting goes to Supreme Court today - what MPs have said about the ban in the past

A Supreme Court appeal by the Crown kicks off today over whether a blanket ban to removing prisoner voting rights is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights.

Prisoner in jail cell. Source: 1 NEWS

Prisoners are not allowed to vote in New Zealand, after a 2010 policy change removed the right for any prisoner with less than three years of their sentence to vote. 

Arthur Taylor Source: 1 NEWS

In August last year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by the Crown over the 2015 ruling that found the blanket ban to be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, after inmate Arthur Taylor took the issue to the High Court. 

After the High Court ruling, Jacinda Ardern, who at the time was the Labour Party justice spokesperson, told NZ Herald the ruling was a "wake-up call" for the then National-led government, saying the ban was "full of contradictions and inconsistencies". 

"Parliament has a responsibility to respect fundamental rights for all. The Government now has a responsibility to assure all New Zealanders it understands that," she said to NZ Herald at the time.  

At the beginning of 2015, Labour's Kelvin Davis said Labour would "restore the right for prisoners with sentences of less than three years to vote in central and local elections". 

Minister of Justice Andrew Little told 1 NEWS this month he could not comment on the issue, due to it being in front of the court. 

Last week on TV3's Nation, new National Party leader Simon Bridges was asked his view on whether prisoners should vote. 

Mr Bridges thought the previous 1993 law which only allowed prisoners with less than three years on their sentence to vote was still in place, instead of the 2010 blanket ban that did not let any prisoners vote.

Mr Bridges was in parliament for the 2010 vote, and participated in the debate.

In 2010, Hansard documents have Mr Bridges saying in the bill's first reading: "Every so often Parliament gets to debate questions of pure principle. The issue here is whether serving prisoners should have the right to vote. My answer, at a principled level, is absolutely not."

"My grandfather fought in a world war, but did he do that so that serving prisoners could vote? Voting is a fundamental right, but it is also a precious one. By committing serious crime, prisoners opt out of the social contract between citizens and the State, and they lose the right to vote."

He described his speech as "superb" in the second reading, saying it "set out very clearly the rationale for this bill". 

In last week's interview, eight years later, Mr Bridges said: "I think the answer that we came to in Government was under, is it two or three years? Yes. Where they're in for really serious lags and really serious offences, no," he said.

Host Lisa Owen then told him no prisoners could vote, and asked if he supported giving the vote to prisoners with three years left of their sentences.

"Is there an issue with prisoners in prison not having the vote, do I feel prissy about that? Am I worried about the Bill of Rights implications? No I'm not."

Previously, both the now-Minister of Finance and Minister of Education also spoke during the debate of prisoner voting rights. 

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said in the first reading of the 2010 bill: "We struggle to get the people who are more likely to go to prison on to the electoral roll in the first place, yet this bill removes them from the electoral roll. It is not justified. It will further marginalise them from our community."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson described it in the second reading as "a disgraceful attack on democracy". 

He said it was "a petty, spiteful attempt to try to curry favour with a populist issue". 

Despite the critique of removing voting rights to prisoners, there are no current members' bills or policy proposals to remove the ban. 

The Green Party previously gave their support to reinstating the right for prisoners to vote. To make changes in parliament, Labour would need the support of both the Greens and NZ First. 

When asked their stance on prisoners voting, a NZ First spokesperson said: "This is no policy on this and the Caucus will discuss it if it comes up."

Tania Sawicki Mead, director of JustSpeak told 1 NEWS she hoped changing the law would be a priority for the government. Source: 1 NEWS

Tania Sawicki Mead, director of JustSpeak, a youth criminal justice advocacy group, told 1 NEWS she hoped changing the law would be a priority for the government. 

"It is incumbent on all MPs to consider the legislation they vote for, and to degree they violate the basic human rights of people affected," she said. 

"You have to tread really carefully when you're removing basic human rights that are afforded to all of us."

"It's tempting for some MPs to take the easy way out, and suggest further punishment and isolation for people who have committed crimes but it benefits all of us when we think of the long term outcomes."

She said Labour had "indicated they're not happy with this piece of legislation and they've got the momentum and the opportunity to do something about it".

"We all understand that people who have been in prison will at some point come out again. We should all want to do things that we can to ensure when they do come out they have an opportunity to participate in our society in a way that is beneficial for everyone.

"The idea is that it follows as a natural punishment is not really fair because people who are in prison already being punished by having their liberty removed, and not to mention various other restrictions on their rights."