New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990
New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990
Coat of Arms of New Zealand.svg
Parliament of New Zealand
Long title/
An Act (a) To affirm, protect, and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms in New Zealand; and (b) To affirm New Zealand's commitment to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Introduced by Sir Geoffrey Palmer
Commencement immediate (no commencement clause)
Other legislation
Amendments 1993
Related legislation Human Rights Act 1993
Status: Current legislation

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (sometimes known by its acronym, NZBORA or BORA) is a statute of the New Zealand Parliament setting out the rights and fundamental freedoms of the citizens of New Zealand as a Bill of rights. It is part of New Zealand's uncodified constitution.



In 1985 a White Paper entitled "A Bill of Rights for New Zealand", was tabled in Parliament by the then Minister of Justice, Hon Geoffrey Palmer. The paper proposed a number of controversial features, which sparked widespread debate:

  • The Bill of Rights was to become entrenched law so that it could not be amended or repealed without a 75% majority vote in the House of Representatives or a simple majority in a public referendum;
  • The Bill of Rights was to therefore have status as supreme law, thereby causing some erosion to the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty;
  • The Treaty of Waitangi was to be wholly incorporated within the Bill of Rights thus elevating the Treaty's status to that of supreme law;
  • The Judiciary would have the power to invalidate any Act of Parliament, common law rule or official action which was contrary to the Bill of Rights.

The Bill then went to the Justice and Law Reform Select Committee, which recommended that New Zealand was "not yet ready" for a Bill of Rights in the form proposed by the White Paper. The Committee recommended that the Bill of Rights be introduced as an ordinary statute, which would not have the status of superior or entrenched law.

In its current form, the Bill of Rights is similar to the Canadian Bill of Rights, passed in 1960. The Act does create an atmosphere change in New Zealand law in that it provides judges the means to "interpret around" other acts to ensure enlarged liberty interests. The Bill of Rights has a liberty-maximising clause much like the Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and this provides many opportunities for creative interpretation in favour of liberties and rights.

Application of the Bill of Rights

The Act applies only to acts done by the three branches of government (the legislature, executive and judiciary) of New Zealand, or any body in the "performance of any public function, power, or duty" created by the law (Section 3).

Section 4 specifically denies the Act any supremacy over other legislation. The section states that Courts looking at cases under the Act cannot implicitly repeal or revoke, or make invalid or ineffective, or decline to apply any provision of any statute made by parliament, whether before or after the Act was passed because it is inconsistent with any provision of this Bill of Rights.

Section 5 allows for "Justified Limitations" on the rights guaranteed by the Act which are "subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society"."

Section 6 ensures that where an interpretation of an Act has a meaning that is consistent with the Act, that meaning shall be preferred to any other meaning.

Section 7 Reports

Section 7 of the Act requires the Attorney-General to draw to the attention of Parliament the introduction of any Bill that is inconsistent with the Act. The Ministry of Justice, which prepares this advice for the Attorney-General, requires a minimum of two weeks to review the draft legislation.

See the list of bills reported as inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Civil and Political Rights

Part II of the Act covers a broad range of Civil and Political Rights.

Life and the Security of the Person

As part of the right to life and security of the person, the Act guarantees everyone:

Democratic and Civil Rights

Electoral Rights
The Act sets out the electoral rights of New Zealanders. The Act guarantees that every New Zealand citizen who is of or over the age of 18 years has:

  • The right to vote in elections of members of Parliament, which shall be held by equal suffrage and by secret ballot (Section 12(a))
  • Has the right to become a member of the House of Representatives (Section 12(b))

Furthermore, the Act guarantees everyone: Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion

  • The right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and hold opinions without interference (Section 13)

Freedom of expression

  • The right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form (Section 14)

Religion and Belief

  • The right to manifest that person's religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private (Section 15)


  • The right of peaceful assembly (Section 16)



The Act guarantees to every New Zealand citizen:

  • The right to enter New Zealand (Section 18(2))

The Act guarantees everyone:

  • The right to leave New Zealand (Section 18(3))

The Act also (Section 18(4)) ensures that non-New Zealand citizens lawfully in New Zealand shall not be required to leave except under a decision taken on grounds prescribed by law.

Non-Discrimination and Minority Rights

Section 19 of the Act guarantees freedom from discrimination, on the grounds of discrimination set out in the Human Rights Act 1993.

Search, Arrest, and Detention

The Act guarantees everyone:

  • The right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure, whether of the person, property, or correspondence, or otherwise (Section 21)
  • The right not to be arbitrarily arrested or detained (Section 22)

Everyone who is arrested or who is detained has the right to:

  • Be informed at the time of the arrest or detention of the reason for it; and
  • Consult and instruct a lawyer without delay and to be informed of that right; and
  • Have the validity of the arrest or detention determined without delay by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the arrest or detention is not lawful.

Everyone who is arrested for an offence has the right to be charged promptly or to be released. Everyone who is arrested or detained for any offence or suspected offence shall have the right to:

  • Refrain from making any statement and to be informed of that right.

Everyone deprived of liberty has the right to be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the person (Section 23). Criminal Justice The Act requires that everyone who is charged with an offence:

  • Shall be informed promptly and in detail of the nature and cause of the charge; and
  • Shall be released on reasonable terms and conditions unless there is just cause for continued detention; and
  • Shall have the right to consult and instruct a lawyer; and
  • Shall have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence; and
  • Shall have the right, except in the case of an offence under military law tried before a military tribunal, to the benefit of a trial by jury when the penalty for the offence is or includes imprisonment for more than 3 months; and
  • Shall have the right to receive legal assistance without cost if the interests of justice so require and the person does not have sufficient means to provide for that assistance; and
  • Shall have the right to have the free assistance of an interpreter if the person cannot understand or speak the language used in court. (Section 24)

Fair Trial Everyone who is charged with an offence has the minimum right:

  • To a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial court;
  • To be tried without undue delay;
  • To be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law;
  • Not to be compelled to be a witness or to confess guilt;
  • To be present at the trial and to present a defence;
  • To examine the witnesses for the prosecution and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses for the defence under the same conditions as the prosecution;
  • If convicted of an offence in respect of which the penalty has been varied between the commission of the offence and sentencing, to the benefit of the lesser penalty;
  • If convicted of the offence, to appeal according to the law to a higher court against the conviction or against the sentence or against both:
  • In the case of a child, to be dealt with in a manner that takes account of the child's age (Section 25)

Double Jeopardy Section 26 covers instances of double jeopardy. The Act holds that:

  • No one shall be liable to conviction of any offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute an offence by such person under the law of New Zealand at the time it occurred.
  • No one who has been finally acquitted or convicted of, or pardoned for, an offence shall be tried or punished for it again.


Section 27 of the Act guarantees everyone the right to the observance of the principles of natural justice by any tribunal or other public authority which has the power to make a determination in respect of that person's right, obligations, or interests protected or recognised by law. Every person also has the right to bring civil proceedings against, and to defend civil proceedings brought by, the Crown, and to have those proceedings heard, according to law, in the same way as civil proceedings between individuals.

Important court cases

A large number of cases have been heard under the Act since it was passed in 1990, mostly pertaining to rights around arrest and detention.

  • Flickinger v. Crown Colony of Hong Kong, [1991] 1 NZLR 439, the Court of Appeal held that section 66 of the Judicature Act 1908, which denied the right of appeal in extradition cases such as this one, was to be interpreted in light of section six of the Act. Nonetheless, the Court held in this case the Bill of Rights had not been breached, and the appeallant, Flickinger, had to return to Hong Kong to face charges.
  • Simpson v. Attorney General, [1994] 3 NZLR 667 (also known as Baigent's case), the plaintiffs alleged that police officers had persisted in bad faith with the search of the late Mrs Baigent's house when they knew that her property had been mistakenly named in a search warrant issued for a drug dealers' house. The plaintiffs sued on the grounds the police breached section 21 of the Bill of Rights' Act, the right to be secure against unreasonable search and arrest. Four out of five of the Court of Appeal's bench held that:
  • The fact that the Bill of Rights did not include a specific remedies section did not mean Parliament did not intend to compensate for breaches of the Act;
  • The Bill of Rights had to be interpreted in light of New Zealand's obligations under the ICCPR;
  • The Courts can award remedies for breaches of the Bill of Rights;
  • The liability of breaches of the Act fell on the Crown.
  • Hopkinson v. Police, [2004] 3 NZLR 704, in 2003, Paul Hopkinson, a Wellington schoolteacher, burned the Flag of New Zealand as part of a protest in Parliament grounds at the New Zealand Government's hosting of the Prime Minister of Australia, against the background of Australia's support of the United States in its war in Iraq. Hopkinson was initially convicted under Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981 of destroying a New Zealand flag with intent to dishonour it, but appealed against his conviction. On appeal, his conviction was overturned on the grounds that the law had to be read consistently with the right to freedom of expression under the Bill of Rights. This meant that his actions were not unlawful because the word dishonour in the Flags, Emblems and Names Protection Act had many shades of meaning, and when the least restrictive meaning of that word was adopted Hopkinson's actions didn't meet that standard. This somewhat unusual result was due in part to the fact that the Bill of Rights does not overrule other laws (see Flag desecration).

See also


External links

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