Government to strengthen NZ Bill of Rights

The government has announced that it plans to formally recognise the ability of the courts to declare that a law is inconsistent with the NZ Bill of Rights Act, and require Parliament to respond.

While this does not allow the court to 'strike down' the offending legislation, this move will put more pressure on the government to fix egregious breaches of civil liberties in New Zealand law.

The move comes after the courts declared that the law removing prisoner voting rights was inconsistent with the NZ Bill of Rights. Rather than working to fix the law, the government of the time chose to appeal the decision and, after losing in court, decided to ignore the court's declaration.

Our response

The NZ Council for Civil Liberties, having long argued that the NZ BORA should be strengthened, welcomes this proposed law change. It will provide an avenue for laws to be reviewed when they're so offensive to civil liberties that even the courts find problems with them.

However, we note that there is no requirement for Parliament to do anything but "respond" and that it will be entirely possible for Parliament to ignore the court's declaration. 

While this is a good first step, we continue to advocate for a stronger Bill of Rights and better protections for civil liberties in New Zealand.

Further analysis

Newsroom has more analysis and comment from Sir Geoffrey Palmer and former Attorny General Chris Finlayson.