Court told no evidence PM John Key unlawfully won seat

IN COURT: Arthur Taylor, pictured here in 2011.
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

IN COURT: Arthur Taylor, pictured here in 2011.

Prime Minister John Key's lawyer has dismissed criminal litigator Arthur Taylor's claim that Key unlawfully won the Helensville electorate, saying there's "no evidence to substantiate his claims". 

Taylor, a serving prisoner with more than 150 convictions, is petitioning the court claiming Key's election as MP for Helensville was unlawful because about 650 prisoners at Auckland Prison at Paremoremo were excluded from voting in the electorate. 

He challenged the result on the grounds that the Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Act 2010 was invalid because it prevented about 8600 prisoners in the country's jails from registering or voting. 

PM: John Key

PM: John Key

After hearing Taylor's arguments in the High Court at Auckland today, Key's counsel Peter Kiely made his opening submissions this afternoon, saying there was no evidence to support Taylor's claims. 

Taylor was not registered to vote in last year's election, was not entitled to vote and therefore "has no standing" to challenge the Helensville result, Kiely said.  

"There is no evidence to support the petitioner's various claims, and in the face of an overwhelming election win by (Key) , the election petition must fail," he said. 

Key won the electorate in September with more than 18,000 votes over his nearest competitor, the Green Party's Kennedy Graham, who received nearly 4500 votes. 

Kiely said that even in the "improbable scenario" that all of New Zealand's prison population had voted for Graham, Key would still have won the electorate by a large majority. 

Earlier today, Taylor argued that there was no rational reason to disqualify prisoners from voting, saying punishment wasn't a legitimate reason, claiming it served the political interests of National to ban prisoner votes, and that the knock-on effect was that many prisoners wouldn't bother voting once they were released from prison either. 

He also claims Key knew about and benefitted from people broadcasting, on election day, Facebook material encouraging people to vote National.

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Kiely said knowledge of third-party conduct such as an illegal endorsements didn't amount to illegal practice in itself, and that police were still investigating the matter and therefore it would be inappropriate for the court to determine the issue.  

Taylor protested the fact he wasn't provided a desk in court, unlike the four lawyers representing Key and the Crown, and two friends of the court, who had claimed all the available bench space in the small courtroom.  

He was instead given a desk in the prisoner's dock for his paperwork.

He submitted that "if 8600 Remuera-ites were denied the right to vote, I'm sure there would be an outcry on the streets".

"[Prisoners'] votes are just as important as anybody else's." 

Taylor is presenting his case at the three-day hearing in front of Justice Geoffrey Venning, Justice Helen Winkelmann and Justice Paul Heath despite Justice Rebecca Ellis ruling earlier in September that prisoners being denied the right to vote wasn't inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. 

Prior to 2010 prisoners could vote if they were serving a jail term of fewer than three years, but this was scrapped when former National MP Paul Quinn advanced a private member's bill to disqualify all prisoners from voting.  

During his lengthy incarceration Taylor has become known as a prison lawyer after initiating and winning several lawsuits against the Department of Corrections, including an appeal of the ban on prisoners being able to smoke. 

He's serving lengthy sentences for drug and firearm offences, kidnapping and twice escaping from custody. 

The hearing is expected to finish on Thursday. 

 - Stuff

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