When developing policy proposals, consideration must be given to their consistency with domestic human rights legislation and New Zealand's international human rights obligations.
These include the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Human Rights Act 1993, and the Privacy Act 2020 (the Acts), core human rights treaties that New Zealand has ratified, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The key aim of these requirements is to ensure Ministers are aware of the human rights implications before policy proposals reach the legislative or implementation stage.
It is the responsibility of each department to make its own assessment and sign off on human rights implications in the department’s area of responsibility. In carrying out this assessment departments should, where appropriate, consult agencies with an interest or experience in human rights issues, such as the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) (human rights policy), and the Crown Law Office (legal advice), and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (New Zealand's international human rights obligations and interests). It is a mandatory requirement to consult the MoJ about policy proposals that may lead to legislation.
Cabinet policy and legislation papers should include a statement on the consistency of the proposals with the Acts, and the core human rights treaties that New Zealand has ratified. Papers should also refer to other human rights instruments if they are relevant, such as the UNDRIP.
The statement, under the heading “Human Rights Implications”, should indicate:
- whether and how the proposal promotes fundamental human rights and freedoms, including the equal enjoyment of those rights by everyone
- the nature of any potential inconsistencies with the Acts or New Zealand’s international human rights obligations (or states that there are none)
- the steps taken to address the issues, and
- any justifications for the policy infringing a right or freedom.
You can find guidance on how to consider human rights in policy, and more information about the core human rights treaties, on the MoJ website. Information about UNDRIP in the New Zealand context is available from Te Puni Kōkiri.
For proposals with potential impacts on privacy, the website of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner includes information about Privacy Impact Assessments, including when one needs to be done, and the Information Privacy Principles.
When preparing government bills
The Attorney-General is required by section 7 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 to bring to the attention of the House any provision in a bill that appears to be inconsistent with any of the rights and freedoms contained in the Act. In the case of government bills, this must occur upon the introduction of the bill.
The MoJ provides advice to the Attorney-General in relation to non-Justice bills, and the Crown Law Office (Crown Law) provides advice on Justice bills. Departments should contact MoJ/Crown Law early and provide draft versions of bills to begin the vetting process. All final versions of government bills must be with MoJ/Crown Law at least two weeks in advance of the relevant Cabinet committee meeting (usually LEG) on that bill.
The two week deadline allows MoJ/Crown Law sufficient time to check the bill for consistency with the Act and to advise the Attorney-General accordingly, and also allows the Attorney-General to receive the advice at least a week in advance of the LEG meeting. If a final version of a government bill is not with MoJ/Crown Law at least two weeks in advance of the LEG meeting, the Minister sponsoring the bill should defer submission of the bill to LEG.