Earlier this month, the Commission welcomed the passing of the Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill.
The Bill, which was introduced by former Justice Minister Amy Adams in 2016 and picked up by current Justice Minister Andrew Little, was unanimously supported by all parties in Parliament and will allow men convicted of historical homosexual offences to have them wiped from their records.
Homosexuality was a crime in New Zealand until the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform Act was passed. The Act legalised consensual sex between men. It was never illegal for women in New Zealand to have same-sex relationships.
The Bill introduces a scheme to wipe convictions for men that are due to offences that were decriminalised by the Homosexual Reform Act 1986. To be wiped, the conduct must not be an offence under today's laws.
Those who were convicted, or their families if they are deceased, must apply to the Secretary of Justice to have the convictions wiped from their criminal records. If approved, government records will be amended so the conviction does not appear in New Zealand criminal history checks.
Human Rights Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue says that while this goes some way to restoring the dignity and human rights of those whose lives were deeply affected by an unjust law, the Commission is calling on the Government to proactively review all pre-Act conviction files.
“The passing of this bill will be life-changing for the men whose lives were deeply impacted by an unjust law. To avoid further pain for those men and their families, the Commission would like to see all pre-Act cases proactively reviewed, rather than make decisions on a case-by-case basis,” Jackie says.
The Bill passing, and the upcoming celebration of 5 years of marriage equality show there are positive things happening for this community. However, getting the process right around the review of pre-Act cases, and addressing the many outstanding human rights issues faced by people with diverse sexualities, gender identities and sex characteristics, is vital to progress.
“The Commission has engaged with these communities directly this year and heard their top issues, which include access to affirming healthcare, education, identity documents, and collection of data.
“We will continue to work with those affected to not only understand their challenges but ensure that changes are made to enable those challenges to be overcome,” Jackie says.