Report by NewsroomPlus.com Contributed from Parliament.nz
The US has their Constitution, the UK the Magna Carta. For New Zealand one of our most important laws is the NZ Bill of Rights Act, which was 25 years old last week.
The Act, passed in 1990, affirms, protects and promotes our human rights and fundamental freedoms. It was designed to protect New Zealanders against the actions of the State.
Today the NZ Bill of Rights Act is considered to be one of our constitutional documents. Others include the Treaty of Waitangi, other Acts such as the Constitution Act 1986, decisions of the court and constitutional conventions. Together these key sources make up our constitution.
The Act was brought to Parliament by Geoffrey Palmer, who was the Minister of Justice at the time.
Here are some of the many rights and freedoms that are set out in the Act:
- the right to peaceful assembly (which includes the right to protest peacefully)
- the right to freedom of expression (the right to say what you want, within certain legal limits, without punishment from the State)
- the right to not be discriminated against
- the right to vote in general elections
- the right to justice.
Although these and other rights were commonly understood to be already recognised, this Act confirmed those rights. An easy to read explanation has since been published, so everyone can understand what these rights mean.
How the NZ Bill of Rights Act protects human rights today
Here are two examples of how the Act (known as BORA) helps to protect human rights today.
- The first relates to the making of new laws in Parliament. When a proposed law (a bill) is introduced in Parliament, the Attorney-General must check to see whether it is consistent with BORA. If it seems likely to breach people’s rights under BORA, the Attorney-General must write a report so that MPs can understand the problem before deciding whether to support the proposed law.
- The second protection relates to the courts and the way they interpret certain laws. Courts are required to prefer interpretations that protect people’s human rights, in line with BORA.