Phillip John Smith claim over 'unlawful' prison release ban to head to court
A convicted murderer's bid to have a temporary ban on prison releases declared unlawful will be heard in court.
The Department of Corrections attempted to have the move struck out, but its application was declined in the High Court at Auckland.
Corrections put the ban in place in 2014 after Phillip John Smith fled to Brazil while on temporary release from Spring Hill Corrections Facility in Waikato.
Smith was serving a life sentence for murdering the father of a teenage boy he had been molesting.
He also has a raft of other convictions, including child sex offences, aggravated burglary and kidnapping.
Smith claims the temporary ban was unlawful and is seeking a judicial review of Corrections' decisions.
Four other prisoners have also filed proceedings against Corrections for wages they lost while the release to work programme was suspended.
However, Corrections argued that Smith's move was an "abuse of process" and he lacked the standing to bring the case.
On Tuesday, the High Court at Auckland sided with Smith and declined Corrections' move to have the case struck out.
Justice Matthew Palmer said in his decision that Smith had the standing to bring the claim as he was "sufficiently affected by, and connected to, the decision".
There was also sufficient public interest in the temporary ban to allow the case to proceed, he said.
The case will now go to a substantive hearing and the Crown was ordered to pay "reasonable disbursements" to Smith.
Before Smith escaped, certain prisoners with minimum, low, or low-medium security classifications were eligible for temporary release.
The scheme was aimed at rehabilitating prisoners and reintegrating them into the community.
On November 11, 2014, five days after Smith fled, Corrections ordered a ban on temporary releases, with some exceptions.
The department released further guidelines three days later, and again on February 3, 2015, restricting prisoners' eligibility for the scheme.
The interim system remained in force until October 19, 2015, when a new temporary release system came into effect.
An affidavit by the Chief Custodial Officer of Corrections, prepared in August 2015, noted the number of prisoners released to outside work programmes was reduced from 443 to 264 under the temporary system.
"This had a significantly adverse effect on prisoner morale," the report said.
"The interim measures were restrictive and had impacts for prisoners, families, employers and community groups."
Smith was convicted in 2016 for escaping from prison and sentenced to a further 33 months' imprisonment.
In June, he received a $3500 payout from the Government after successfully arguing that Corrections' confiscation of his toupee – which he used to disguise himself when he fled to Brazil – was a breach of human rights.
Smith was declined parole that same month and will not come before the parole board again until 2019.
His current security classification is low-medium.