The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (the Act) confirms fundamental rights and freedoms that the state must respect. It sets minimum standards for all public decision-making.
Bill of Rights Act
Rights protected in the Act
New Zealanders’ rights protected in this law include:
- the right to life
- the right to vote
- freedom of expression
- freedom of religion
- a fair hearing, particularly in a criminal trial.
The Act also protects New Zealander’s rights in relation to search, arrest and detention. There are also non-discrimination and minority rights.
All these rights are known as civil and political rights. The Act does not cover other rights such as property, economic, social and cultural rights or the right to privacy.
Legislation may limit rights
Not all rights are absolute. Sometimes limits on rights can be justified. For example, the right to freedom of expression does not include a right to encourage violence.
In New Zealand, Parliament has the last say
In New Zealand, Parliament is the ultimate decision-maker about whether legislation limits rights and whether any limit is justified.
In some other countries, similar laws have a higher legal status over other laws (supreme law). The Courts can review Parliament’s decision and may have powers to declare legislation inconsistent or strike it down.
Enforcing the Bill of Rights Act
There are two key ways of enforcing the Act:
- New Zealand judges can decide an action of the state breaches the Act and may order remedies.
- Parliament takes the Act into account when making laws. The Attorney-General must inform Parliament if he or she considers that a Bill is inconsistent with rights in the Act.
Rights in other legislation
Some rights are protected in other legislation such as the Human Rights Act 1993 and some British statutes that are now New Zealand law, such as the Magna Carta.
Other New Zealand laws also relate to individual rights, particularly laws relating to education, social security, privacy, health and disability services For instance, the Privacy Act 1993 sets out the principles of privacy, and the Public Works Act 1981 implements the right to compensation when private property is taken for public purposes.
These are the questions we would like your feedback on:
Does the Bill of Rights Act protect your rights enough?
What other things could be done to protect rights?
Do you think the Act should have a higher legal status than other laws (supreme law)?
Who should have the power to decide whether legislation is consistent with the Act: Parliament or the Courts?
What additional rights, if any, could be added to the Act?