Denial of Maori Prisoner Voting Rights Breaches Treaty

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(SCOOP MEDIA) Press Release: Rethinking Crime and Punishment

13th June 2014

In its latest blog, Rethinking Crime and Punishment discusses Prison lawyer Arthur Taylors claim to the High Court that the legislation denying prisoners the right to vote, is not only a breach of the Bill of Rights, but of Article Three of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Kim Workman points out that at the time the Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Act 2010, the Attorney General had already advised Parliament that the legislation was unjustifiably inconsistent with the electoral rights affirmed by s 12 of the Bill of Rights Act. There was however, no consideration of its impact on Article Three of the Treaty of Waitangi, which extends to Maori all the rights and privileges of British Subjects.

By denying prisoners the right to vote, Maori prisoners are not only also denied the right to vote, but are disproportionately disadvantaged. Maori are six times more likely than non-Maori to end up in prison, and therefore six times more likely to be deprived of the right to vote.

Maori are imprisoned at a rate of around 700 per 100,000, just under the general imprisonment rate in the USA. When imprisonment rates of an ethnic group reach that level, then the law operates to shift inequality into the political process, causing the disproportionate denial of the right to vote to Maori, and to a lesser extent Pacific peoples.

The outcome is that at the next general election about 4,300 Maori will be denied the right to vote. Given that we have a Maori Electoral Roll, seven Maori electoraties, and two parties with direct appeal to Maori voters, this restriction could impact on the election results. In the Taitokerau Maori seat, which covers Northland and West Auckland, there will be a close call between Internet- Manas Hone Harawira and the Labour Partys Kelvin Davis. Around 22% of Maori in prison identify as coming from Ngapuhi and Te Taitokerau, and a one-quarter of all Maori live in the Auckland region.

It is possible that the governments decision to deny Maori prisoners voting rights, could swing the result in either direction. If that happens, it could lead to legal proceedings about the lawfulness of the result, given that a significant number of Maori voters have been denied a treaty right.

We can but hope that the High Court finds a way of making a determination in this matter; hopefully before the election.

Reference: http://blog.rethinking.org.nz/2014/06/the-prisoners-right-to-vote-enter.html

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