Human rights legislation – New Zealand

There are two main New Zealand laws that specifically promote and protect human rights. One is the Human Rights Act 1993, and the other is the Bill of Rights Act 1990. The Commission makes submissions on other legislation that may affect New Zealanders’ human rights.

Human Rights Act 1993

The Human Rights Act’s intention is to help ensure that all people in New Zealand are treated fairly and equally. The Act also sets out the role of the Human Rights Commission.

Under the Act, the Commission has the power to resolve disputes relating to unlawful discrimination. If you believe you have been discriminated against you can ask the Commission for help.

The Human Rights Act 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 see the Enquiries, Complaints and Support section.

The Human Rights Amendment Act 2001 made significant changes to the Human Rights Act 1993, These changes included establishing the Office of Human Rights Proceedings and merging the Office of Race Relations Conciliator into the Commission.

You can read the Human Rights Act, including amendments, on the New Zealand Legislation website.

You can read a Summary of the Human Rights Act here.

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act

The Bill of Rights Act sets out a range of civil and political rights, which arise from the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These include the rights to freedom of expression, religious belief, freedom of movement, and the right to be free from discrimination.

The Bill of Rights Act requires the government and anyone carrying out a public function to observe these rights, and to justify any limits placed on them.

All new legislation is examined to see if it is consistent with the rights and freedoms in 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.

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. 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 apply to the courts to consider your claim that your rights have been breached.

You can read the Bill of Rights Act on the New Zealand Legislation website.

Privacy Act 1993

The Director of Human Rights Proceedings can also appear in the Tribunal in cases under the Privacy Act 1993 either as a plaintiff or as an intervener.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner decides that there has not been an interference with privacy or the Director decides not to bring proceedings, the complainant can still bring his or her own proceedings in the Tribunal. If the complainant does so, the Director has the right to appear in the case as an intervener.

The Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding document and  is an agreement, in Māori and English, that was made between the British Crown and about 540 Māori rangatira (chiefs).

The Treaty of Waitangi is not considered part of New Zealand domestic law, except where its principles are referred to in Acts of Parliament. However, in recent times successive governments have recognised the significance of the Treaty in the life of the nation.

The Treaty of Waitangi remains the basis of the relationship between Māori and the Crown, as represented by the New Zealand government. Read more about human rights and the Treaty of Waitangi here.