Career crim toasts smoke ban ruling

'CHUFFED': Arthur Taylor.
'CHUFFED': Arthur Taylor.

Career criminal Arthur Taylor is "chuffed" after a judge ruled the prison smoking ban was unlawful and now plans further action to force Corrections to drop it.

"I'm really chuffed about it, it is showing them [Corrections] they just can't act outside the law," Taylor, speaking from Auckland's Paremoremo prison, said of last week's decision.

"This victory shows Corrections must obey the law like the rest of New Zealand. Prisoners have legal rights too."

Last Thursday Justice Murray Gilbert ruled the ban, which had been in force for 17 months, was "unlawful, invalid and of no effect".

Corrections has refused to say whether they would challenge the ruling, but said the ban would remain in place.

"This has not changed our commitment to smoke-free prisons and prisoners and staff will not be able to smoke as per our current regulations," general manager of Corrections services Dr Brendan Anstiss said.

Inmates are still forbidden to smoke or possess tobacco related products because the Government changed Corrections regulations classifying them as contraband.

Anstiss said Justice Gilbert's ruling was not about those amendments.

Taylor said that was not the case as the Smokefree Environments Act and New Zealand Bill of Rights Act "takes precedence over any changes Corrections have made".

Next month Taylor will seek a summary judgement from the High Court to force Corrections to drop the ban.

"It shouldn't be incumbent on me to give Corrections legal advice, but if they're not going to get any before introducing [the ban], I guess I have to," Taylor said today.

He said his fellow Paremoremo inmates were "rapt" over the decision and "they're all congratulating me and shaking my hand".

"But at the same time, they're powerless in here and they fully expect Corrections to ignore the decision."

Taylor, who joked that he was expecting a call from the tobacco industry praising him, said Corrections had "opened themselves up to a whirlwind of harm and distress claims" from prisoners.

"They've unlawfully forced them to do something (quit smoking) they're legally entitled to do."

Taylor said despite Corrections claims the ban had created no disharmony in prisons, that was not his experience.

"I see the misery around me this has caused."

Crown lawyer Austin Powell unsuccessfully asked the court to suspend the effect of the ruling for six months, on the basis Taylor didn't smoke "and is not affected by the rule" and that it may endanger prison staff.

"The court's decision has the potential to affect the entire prison population and all personnel who work in prisons, to their detriment," Powell said.

He referred to evidence of improved air quality at prisons and a reduction in fires since the ban was introduced.

Taylor lodged proceedings against the manager of Auckland Prison over the ban in September 2011 and a judicial review hearing took place in August.

The 56-year-old argued the prison manager had no power under the Corrections Act to introduce the ban and had not used his "discretion in doing so", instead acting under the direction of the chief executive.

Taylor, who has racked up more than 130 convictions, represented himself during proceedings after a request for legal aid was declined in December last year because, according to the Legal Services Agency, his "prospects of success are not sufficient to justify a grant of aid".

He said challenging the ban had cost him "a bloody fortune". He estimated he had spent about $25,000 bringing the matter to court.