Prisoner vote decision important for us too

Rainbow Wellington says a landmark court decision on prisoner voting rights is important to our communities, because it shows how protections for minority groups can be cast casually aside.

The High Court has ruled the blanket ban on prisoners voting, introduced legislatively in 2010, breaches the Bill of Rights.

While it doesn’t invalidate the legislation, it is the first time the court has issued a declaration of inconsistency in relation to the Bill of Rights Act.

The Government claims it looked at the impact on the Bill of Rights at the time, but is now facing pressure to amend the law.

When it was being debated in 2010, Rainbow Wellington said it was “deeply concerned” by the law, which it warned was going to “casually overrule the Bill of Rights”. 

It stated: “We, as a group representing a class of people included under a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Human Rights Act, are concerned that, if principles of the Bill of Rights can be so casually cast aside in one context, we could easily be next.”

Current Rainbow Wellington President Rawa Karetai says the group went on to make a submission to the Constitution Conversation, proposing our Bill of Rights be strengthened, to avoid such actions in Parliament in the future. 

“We are aware that the Government is unlikely to implement this at present, but after this judgment, they should be very aware that such blatant disregard for the principles of the Bill of Rights makes it more likely that [it] will be so strengthened in the future.”

Secretary Dean Halifax says the court decision “is especially important to rainbow communities because the legislative changes about which the court commented were made in a high-handed, desperate manner.”

He warns, “All minority communities are vulnerable to such random and arbitrary acts.”

Halifax says the Human Rights Act is an essential document for the protection of minorities because “it disrupts politicians' reaction to the 'shadowy', knee-jerk and hysterical activities of lobby groups”.

Note: while sexuality is a protected ground from discrimination in New Zealand, gender identity is still not explicitly protected. Repeated attempts by Labour MP Louisa Wall to have this changed have been knocked back.

The text of the judgment with press release is at: http://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/front-page/cases/taylor-and-ors-v-attorney-general-and-anor