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Electoral Disqualification Strongly Opposed

Law Society Strongly Opposes Electoral Disqualification

A Bill before Parliament which would remove the right of anyone serving a term of imprisonment to register as an elector has been described as an “unnecessary and retrograde step” by the New Zealand Law Society.

The Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Prisoners) Amendment Bill 2010 proposes removing the right of anyone serving a term of imprisonment of less than 3 years to register as an elector. At present only people serving a sentence of imprisonment for more than 3 years are not able to register as electors.

In a written submission on the Bill, Law Society President Jonathan Temm today said it was retrograde legislation which would erode the free and democratic nature of New Zealand society without justification.

“The Law Society believes that the current law keeps the correct balance between maintenance of a free and democratic society, the right to vote for all New Zealand citizens and the necessary removal of certain rights from prisoners,” he said.

Mr Temm said that what the Bill proposed was irrational and arbitrary and it unreasonably impaired the right to vote more than was necessary.

“The Society agrees with the Attorney-General that the Bill appears to be unjustifably inconsistent with the electoral rights affirmed by section 12 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.”

He said the Bill was also contrary to Article 25 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which New Zealand has ratified, and was out of line with international law relating to blanket restrictions on the right of prisoners to vote.

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“The effect of this Bill is that everyone imprisoned in New Zealand at the time of a general election will be unable to register as an elector and hence unable to vote – no matter what the length of their prison sentence is,” Mr Temm said.

The New Zealand Law Society felt that the Bill unnecessarily excluded certain citizens from participating in the election of the government under which they were living.


“The Bill is irrational, discriminatory and unfair. While some people who have been convicted of an offence will not be able to vote because they received a custodial sentence, others who were convicted of the same offence will be able to vote if they received a non-custodial sentence.”

Mr Temm said the Bill impaired the fundamental right to vote more than was reasonably necessary to achieve the purpose of punishing people for serious crimes and was not in due proportion to that purpose.

He said it also overrode without good reason the recommendations of the 1986 New Zealand Royal Commission on the Electoral System, on which the current law disqualifying people convicted of more than 3 years in prison was based.

ENDS


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