Strengthening of human rights protection mechanisms urged

The New Zealand Law Society has advised the United Nations’ Human Rights Council that mechanisms protecting human rights in New Zealand would benefit from further strengthening.

In a submission to the Council for the second Universal Periodic Review of New Zealand’s human rights record, the Law Society identifies a number of legislative measures which it says fail to meet New Zealand’s domestic and international human rights obligations.

Law Society President Chris Moore says that while New Zealand has a generally good record on human rights, its constitutional arrangements mean that protection of human rights depends on rigorous scrutiny of policy and legislation, close adherence to the rule of law, and political restraint where rule of law concerns or inconsistencies with human rights standards are identified.

“Without a supreme bill of rights or entrenched constitution it is crucial that human rights protection mechanisms operate effectively to forestall breaches of human rights. Unfortunately on a number of recent occasions legislation has been passed despite conflicting with the rule of law and human rights.”

Mr Moore says the Law Society believes New Zealand must take action in a number of areas to ensure it ceases to infringe or jeopardise human rights and the rule of law.

“There have been twelve pieces of legislation in recent years that have been identified as inconsistent with the rights and freedoms protected in the New Zealand Bill of Rights, and on a number of occasions urgency has been used in Parliament to limit or bypass select committee scrutiny,” he says.

“The Law Society is also concerned that there has been legislation prohibiting review of government decisions by the courts, and proposing restrictions on rights to legal representation in Family Court proceedings. Other significant concerns include giving the power to amend legislation by regulation without parliamentary scrutiny, and not vetting late amendments to draft bills for their consistency with the Bill of Rights.”

Mr Moore says the Law Society’s submission recommends that the government take concrete, targeted steps to give international human rights obligations greater visibility in New Zealand.

The Law Society also recommends the government establish a formal process for publicising, considering and responding to human rights recommendations by United Nations bodies.