Human Rights Commission deeply concerned about COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill

Human Rights Commission deeply concerned about COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill

May 13, 2020

The Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned about the lack of scrutiny and rushed process for the COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill. 

“For weeks the Government has known that we would be moving to alert level 2. It has not allowed enough time for careful public democratic consideration of this level 2 legislation. There has been no input from ordinary New Zealanders which is deeply regrettable,” said Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt. 

“This is a great failure of our democratic process. The new legislation, if passed in its current state, will result in sweeping police powers unseen in this country for many years.” 

The Human Rights Commission is strongly of the view that the legislation must include a provision to ensure those making decisions, and exercising powers, under the new law, will do so in accordance with national and international human rights commitments and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  

“Given our concerns expressed to the Attorney General yesterday about the two-year sunset clause in the Bill, we are pleased to see that Parliament will be changing this to 90 days. However, given that the legislation encroaches on the civil liberties of New Zealanders we have serious concerns about whether the powers are proportionate." 

“In times of national emergency sweeping powers are granted. There is a risk of overreach. Mistakes are made and later regretted. This is precisely when our national and international human rights, and Te Tiriti, commitments must be taken into account.” 

“Human rights can help to ensure all measures are effective, balanced, fair, reasonable, non-discriminatory, proportionate and subject to independent review. If the Government wishes to retain the public’s trust and confidence, it must honour human rights and Te Tiriti.”  

“A process of regular review by Parliament is needed. If passed in its current form, the Bill should be reviewed by select committee at regular terms and the Government should be open to any recommended changes.”  

Mr Hunt said the Bill currently lacks explicit reference to the Government’s international human rights obligations.  

“Discretion is needed that is proportionate to individual circumstances. The Government should ensure that explicit guidance is provided that allows for discretion to be exercised in the use of the Bill’s powers.” 

Notes for Editors: 

The Human Rights Commission received the exposure draft bill on Monday evening. Our legal team urgently prepared a short response overnight and sent it to the Attorney General before the 10am Tuesday deadline. Due to the extreme urgency, we were not aware at the time that a Bill of Rights Assessment had been completed by Crown Law.  This, however, does not change our position on the key points made in our submission to the Attorney General which is accompanying this media release.

Media Interviews:

The Chief Human Rights Commissioner is available for interviews. Please contact Rachna Nath on [email protected] or 022 014 7594.