Human Rights Act

The Human Rights Act 1993 protects people in New Zealand from discrimination in a number of areas of life. Discrimination occurs when a person is treated unfairly or less favourably than another person in the same or similar circumstances.

The Human Rights Act lists the areas and grounds where discrimination is unlawful and also some exemptions or exclusions. For more information on this please see the Discrimination and Complaints section.

The Human Rights Amendment Act 2001 made significant changes to the Human Rights Act 1993. The Human Rights Act comprises eight parts.

Part 1

The Human Rights Commission was established by the Human Rights Commission Act 1977. It is empowered under the Human Rights Act to protect human rights in general accordance with United Nations Covenants and Conventions and has a range of functions and powers in order to do this.

The Human Rights Amendment Act 2001 made several significant changes to the functions and powers of the Commission. A new section 5 of the principal Act restates, with changes, the functions and powers of the Commission.

The Human Rights Amendment Act 2001 also merged the Office of the Race Relations Conciliator with the Human Rights Commission and new section 16 of the principal Act sets out the functions of the Race Relations Commissioner. Provision was also made for the appointment of a full-time Equal Opportunities Commissioner. The functions of the EEO Commissioner are set out in new section 17.

The Privacy Commissioner ceased to be a member of the Commission. The Complaints Division was abolished meaning that Commissioners no longer have a day-to-day role in the handling of complaints.

The Human Rights Amendment Act 2001 also established the Office of Human Rights Proceedings. New section 20 of the principal Act provides that the Office of Human Rights Proceedings is part of the Commission and is headed by the Director of Human Rights Proceedings. The Director must perform his or her functions independently from the rest of the Commission as well as Ministers of the Crown. The Director replaced the role of Proceedings Commissioner.

Part IA

The Government’s exemption from full compliance with the Human Rights Act 1993 expired on 31 December 2001. The new Part IA made Government, government agencies, and anyone who performs a public function, accountable for unlawful discrimination under the HRA.

Part II

This part defines unlawful discrimination.

Part III

The Human Rights Amendment Act 2001 made significant changes to Part III of the principal Act, which relates to the way complaints of unlawful discrimination are received and resolved by the Commission. Part III of the Act sets out the complaints process, and the functions of the Office of Human Rights Proceedings (sections 75 -92). The amended Act removed the Complaints Division and the Commission’s related investigation functions. The Act now has a flexible, speedy approach to try to settle complaints, including mediation.

If a complaint cannot be resolved informally by the Commission, a complainant is entitled to ask the Director of Human Rights Proceedings to provide free legal representation to take their case in the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

Part IV

Outlines the functions, powers, constitution and procedure of the Human Rights Review Tribunal (formerly the Complaints Review Tribunal and before that the Equal Opportunity Tribunal).

Part V

Outlines the powers of the Commission in relation to inquiries (sections 127 to130).

Part VI

This part deals with the incitement of Racial Disharmony.

Part VII

The part includes miscellaneous provisions.

To read the Human Rights Act 1993 including amendments. Visit the New Zealand legislation website.

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