Legislation to strengthen New Zealanders’ basic human rights has passed its third reading in Parliament today.
The New Zealand Bill of Rights (Declarations of Inconsistency) Amendment Bill provides a process for the Government and House of Representatives to respond to a declaration of inconsistency under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
A ‘declaration of inconsistency’ is a formal statement by a court or tribunal that an Act is inconsistent with fundamental human rights protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
“A declaration does not affect the validity of an Act, or anything done lawfully under that Act,” said Justice Minister, Kiri Allan.
“However, it does signal that the court or tribunal considers an Act to infringe fundamental human rights in a way that cannot be justified in a free and democratic society.
“When the senior courts make such a declaration, there is currently no mechanism to bring the matter to the attention of the House of Representatives.
“This means lawmakers may not have full regard for the declaration and breaches of rights might go unaddressed.”
The Bill will amend the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act to:
- require the Attorney-General to notify the House of Representatives of the court’s declaration of inconsistency within six sitting days after the declaration becomes final; and
- require the Minister responsible to present the Government response within six months of the Attorney-General notifying the House.
“The Bill does not set out the process for Parliament to respond to declarations of inconsistency,” Ms Allan said.
“Instead, the Attorney-General notifying the House of Representatives of the declaration would trigger a Parliamentary process under its Standing Orders.
“The aim of this process is to ensure that declarations of inconsistency are actively considered by the House of Representatives.”
The Parliamentary process would involve:
- a declaration of inconsistency being referred to a select committee;
- the select committee considering and reporting on the declaration within four months; and
- a debate in the House of Representatives on the declaration, the select committee report, and the Government’s response to the declaration.
The Bill also amends the Human Rights Act 1993 so the response to a declaration of inconsistency by the Human Rights Review Tribunal is the same as the response to a declaration under the Bill of Rights Act.