New Zealand Bill of Rights Act

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act places limits on the actions of those in government (including government departments, the judiciary, state-owned enterprises and local authorities) that interfere with the rights of individuals. The Bill of Rights Act also protects the rights of non-natural persons, for example, companies and incorporated societies.

Laws to be consistent with the Bill of Rights

All new legislation is examined to see if it is consistent with the rights and freedoms affirmed by the Bill of Rights Act. If there are any inconsistencies, then the government is required to provide a justification for the limits placed on these rights. The Attorney-General must report any inconsistencies with the Bill of Rights Act to Parliament when the legislation is introduced.

Courts able to enforce the Bill of Rights

If you believe that someone in government has interfered with your rights, you can apply to the courts to consider your claim that your rights have been breached. Please note that applying to the courts is not free of charge – with the exception of complaints about the right to freedom from discrimination. You can apply for legal aid to enable you to do this. The courts will take into account any justifications that the government might provide for limiting your rights. Sometimes an individual’s rights must be balanced with the rights of others, for example, the right to a fair trial should be balanced with the right to privacy, or the right to manifest one’s religious belief.

What are the rights?
  • Life and the security of the person
  • Democratic and civil rights
  • Non-discrimination and minority rights
  • Search, arrest, and detention
  • Criminal procedure
  • Right to justice
1. Life and Security of the Person

You have the right not to be

  • deprived of life
  • subjected to torture, cruel treatment or punishment
  • subjected to medical or scientific experimentation.

You have the right to refuse medical treatment.

2. Democratic and Civil Rights

You have the right to

  • freedom of expression
  • freedom of peaceful assembly
  • freedom of association
  • freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief.

As a New Zealand citizen over 18 you have the right to vote and to be a Member of Parliament.

So long as you are lawfully in New Zealand you have the right to freedom of movement and residence in New Zealand.

You have the right to practise your own religion or beliefs.

Non-discrimination and minority rights

You have the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, religious belief, ethical belief, colour, race, ethnic or national origins, disability, age, political opinion, employment status, family status, and sexual orientation.

If you belong to an ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority you must not be denied the right to enjoy the culture or practise the religion or use the language of that minority.

Search, arrest, and detention

You have the right not to be subjected to

  • unreasonable search or seizure
  • arbitrary arrest or detention.

If you are arrested or detained under the law you have the right to

  • be told of the reasons for your arrest or detention
  • consult and instruct a lawyer and be told of that right
  • lent and be told of that right
  • challenge the lawfulness of your arrest or detention in court
  • be charged promptly or be released
  • be brought before a court as soon as possible, if not released.
If you are charged with an offence you have the right to
  • be told promptly of the nature of the charge
  • be released unless there is just cause for detention
  • adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence
  • trial by jury if the penalty includes more than 3 months imprisonment
  • free legal assistance if the interests of justice require and you do not have sufficient means
  • free assistance of an interpreter if required.
Criminal procedure

If you are charged with an offence you have the right to a minimum standard of criminal procedure which includes the right to

  • be tried without undue delay
  • not be forced to be a witness or to confess guilt
  • be presumed innocent until proven guilty
  • a fair trial and to attend your own trial
  • present a defence and cross-examine witnesses
  • appeal to a higher court against conviction and sentence.

You are not liable to conviction for anything that was not an offence at the time it occurred. If you are convicted, pardoned, or acquitted of an offence you must not be tried or punished for the same offence again.

Right to justice

If your rights may be affected by a decision of a tribunal or public authority you have the right to

  • a fair hearing by an unbiased decision-maker
  • apply for judicial review of that decision.

You have the right to bring civil proceedings against, and defend civil proceedings brought by the Crown in the same way as civil proceedings between individuals.

More information on the Bill of Rights Act:

Read  Advice provided by the Ministry of Justice and the Crown Law Office to the Attorney-General on the consistency of bills with the Bill of Rights Act 1990 (Ministry of Justice).

Read The Guidelines on the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990: A Guide to the Rights and Freedoms in the Bill of Rights Act for the public sector (Ministry of Justice).

To see a copy of the Bill of Rights Act go to the Interim Website of New Zealand Legislation, which is a website providing free access to unofficial versions of New Zealand statutes and statutory regulations. The website is provided by the New Zealand Parliamentary Counsel Office/Te Tari Tohutohu Paremata (PCO) in association with Brookers.

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