MARK SAINSBURY: We need to question our anger over Phillip John Smith's wig victory

17/03/2017
Are human rights negotiable? Should your past influence whether you are entitled to the same human rights others enjoy?

It's so easy to loathe Phillip John Smith, a resident of Paremoremo Prison where he's serving a life sentence for murdering the father of the child he sexually abused.

Very few people are going to give a toss about this narcissist who escaped from prison while on home leave and fled to Brazil disguised by a toupee.

Hairpieces are very, very important to Smith. His efforts to get treatment for baldness and obtain a toupee while in prison were extensive. He argued he needed the toupee because he had ongoing issues with self-esteem and confidence. He was allowed to get one, but not to leave prison for treatment at a hair clinic.

After his escape in 2014 though, Corrections said 'bye bye toupee'. They argued the chemicals and glue used to fix it to Smith's head were a threat to prison security.

Which is how it all ended up in the High Court.

Smith took Corrections to court for impinging on his human rights - the right to wear a toupee in prison. And he wins.

Part of his argument - he represented himself - was that his toupee was an artwork and protected by the right of freedom of expression.

But his case very much rested on his human rights being compromised.

This is one of those great dilemmas like in the US, where the American Civil Liberties Union has had to step up and defend the right of neo-Nazis to march in public.

It's distasteful and it's contrary to their beliefs, but if you are to defend the rights of freedom of expression you can't confine it to expressions you agree with.

In his judgment for Smith, Justice Wylie stated the only contemporaneous reason given for Corrections' decision to take away his wig was that it was due to the prisoner's actions - this suggests it was intended to be punitive.

Now I know at this stage many of you will be on your feet applauding Corrections, a rare occasion indeed. But we can't have it both ways, can we?

We insist on Corrections doing its job properly but we don't want them to treat people differently according to their own prejudices.

Like you, I wish there was an exception, such is the loathing of this man.

If Phillip John Smith was merely a fraudster rather than a murdering paedophile, our attitude would be totally different, I know it would be.

Mark Sainsbury hosts Morning Talk from 9am-midday on RadioLIVE.