Media release: Government passing Returning Offenders Bill under urgency tramples our rights

Tonight the government is using urgency to erode New Zealander’s right to justice. It’s passing the Returning Offenders (Management and Information) Amendment Bill through all three stages in one session, thus avoiding scrutiny and the democratic responsibility to consult on legislation.

“The government is using urgency to make a bad law even worse. It admits that the bill breaches the rights protected by the NZ Bill of Rights but it’s ploughing on regardless,” says NZCCL Chairperson Thomas Beagle.

The Returning Offenders Act is already an offence against our civil liberties. It allows New Zealanders convicted and jailed overseas to be further penalised when they arrive here, even though they have committed no crimes here and haven’t been convicted in a New Zealand court.

The bill is in response to a December 2022 High Court decision which found that the government’s attempt to use the 2015 law retrospectively against people deported from Australia after serving time in prison was against the law. The decision also found that the law breached the rights to natural justice, freedom of movement, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, freedom from retrospective penalties, and freedom from double jeopardy.

The bill shows that the government refuses to accept this decision, and is designed to circumvent the courts by making the law apply retrospectively. It then goes even further in eroding the arriving person’s rights by removing the requirements to provide notice to them and allow them to be heard.

The Attorney-General’s report admits that the bill breaches the right to justice and the right against retrospective increases in penalty (sections 25(g) and 27(1) of the NZ Bill of rights respectively) but this isn’t stopping the government.

“It’s disappointing to see the civil liberties of New Zealanders treated as annoyances to be overruled at Parliament’s convenience. This bill is a perfect example of why we need to strengthen the protection provided by the Bill of Rights in NZ’s constitution,” says Mr Beagle.