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Human Rights Law

A good place to start your research....

The Laws of New Zealand (available on Lexis + Australia) is an encyclopaedic resource, and a good starting point for any research involving NZ law. It is arranged alphabetically by topic, and includes commentary, leading cases and legislation.

To access the human rights commentary in The Laws of New Zealand, scroll through the alphabetical topics to HUMAN RIGHTS and then use the + signs to open up sub-topics.

The NZ Human Rights Framework

The two principal pieces of legislation dealing with human rights protection in New Zealand are:

A. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990

The Bill of Rights affirms, protects and promotes human rights and fundamental freedoms in New Zealand, and affirms New Zealand's commitment to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Bill of Rights groups civil and political rights under the four broad headings of Life and security of the person, Democratic and civil rights, Non-discrimination and minority rights, and Search, arrest and detention. 

The preferred interpretation of legislation is to give it a meaning that is consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights (s 6). The Attorney General must bring to the attention of Parliament any provision in a Bill introduced into the House that appears to be inconsistent with any of the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights (s 7). See more on the s 7 reporting process on the Department of Justice website.

  • All s 7 reports and statistics are available on the Department of Justice website

B. The Human Rights Act 1993 

The Human Rights Act aims to protect human rights in New Zealand in general accordance with United Nations Human Rights treaties. The Act makes it unlawful for the Government, related persons and bodies, or persons or bodies acting with legal authority, to discriminate in proscribed areas, such as employment, access to services and education. The prohibited grounds of discrimination (s 21) include sex, race, religion, age, sexual orientation and political opinion.

  • Complaints of breaches of this Act are made to the Human Rights Commission.
  • If the Commission is unable to resolve the complaint, it can be taken to the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT) for a decision to be made on the matter.
    • HRRT decisions are available to search or browse on the Tribunal's Decisions website
  • Decisions of the HRRT can be appealed to the High Court of New Zealand.
    • High Court decisions are available on NZLII. 

Searching multiple courts for human rights decisions

Human rights issues may be raised in all New Zealand courts and tribunals. In the following databases, you can search decisions from multiple courts and tribunals, as well as those which specifically determine  disputes under the Human Rights Act ie: the Human Rights Review Tribunal, the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. Decisions from these courts and tribunals can be searched simultaneously, or by individual court or tribunal. 

Free Databases

  • NZLII - you can select multiple courts / tribunals to search simultaneously.
  • Subscription Databases (UniMelb staff & student access)
  • BriefCase - ViewCase on Westlaw AU. This database provides summaries of each judgment, the litigation history, citations to the decision in law reports, and PDFs of the full text of the decisions. It also lists and links to cases cited. The database can be searched by eg: classification, catchwords, legislation title or provision. The CiteCase tab lists and links to all cases citing a case.  
  • Linxplus NZ on Lexis + Australia. This database provides summaries of each judgment, the litigation history, citations to the decision in law reports, and PDFs of the full text of the decisions. It also lists and links to cases cited. The database can be searched by eg: catchwords, or legislation title and provision. 
  • Butterworths Human Rights Cases contains significant cases from the European Court of Human Rights, and from domestic courts in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, Ireland and South Africa.

For more information on finding New Zealand cases, see the Case Law tab in the New Zealand Law Research Guide.

International Law and New Zealand Domestic Law

New Zealand follows a dualist approach to the domestic effect of international treaties. This is similar in approach to other Commonwealth countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The dualist system means that in order for the treaty obligations to be given the force of law domestically, they cannot simply be ratified - they must be incorporated into domestic legislation.  

However, the International Bill of Rights (comprising the Universal Declaration of Human rights, the ICCPR and the ICESCR) is binding on New Zealand as a matter of international law (see the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Articles 26-27). The other core rights treaties (of which New Zealand has ratified 5 of the 7) all contain obligations to amend domestic legislation to comply with treaty obligations.

In general, New Zealand courts apply a rule of statutory interpretation whereby domestic statutes are read, so far as their wording allows, consistently with international obligations (see eg: Huang v Minister of Immigration [2008] NZCA 377; [2009] 2 NZLR 700, and the cases cited therein) because there is a presumption that Parliament does not intend to enact legislation that is inconsistent with New Zealand's unincorporated international obligations. For more on this topic, see eg: Alice Osman, 'Demanding Attention: the Roles of Unincorporated International Instruments on Judicial Reasoning' (2014) 122 New Zealand Journal of Public and International Law 345-377. An unpublished version of this article is freely available online. See also Margaret Wilson, Judy McGregor and Sylvia Bell, ‘The Impact of Economic and Social Human Rights in New Zealand Case Law’ (2015) 21(1) Australian Journal of Human Rights 143-165, in which the authors argue, with specific reference to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, that courts are reluctant to grant remedies without this treaty being explicitly incorporated into the domestic law.

See the following books for detailed information:

UN Treaties - Ratification Status and Reservations

Check New Zealand's ratification status and reservations of the core human rights treaties in the UN Treaty Collection Status of Treaties database.

In addition to supporting the principles enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, New Zealand is a party to seven of the nine core UN human rights treaties:

Monitoring compliance with international human rights obligations - New Zealand, UN and Civil Society reports

Reports to and by the UN 

UN Treaty Body Reports

  • New Zealand is required to submit periodic reports to the UN on its implementation of each of the seven core UN human rights treaties it has ratified. The UN Ratification, Reporting & Documentation website contains New Zealand's reports, UN Committee observations, comments, conclusions and recommendations, and NHRI and Civil Society submissions and shadow reports

Universal Periodic Review 

  • The UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States, undertaken by the UN Human Rights CouncilIt involves review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. Review under the UPR does not depend on a country being a party to a particular human rights treaty. New Zealand Reports can be viewed on the UPR Documents database.

The New Zealand Country Report includes information on the latest Universal Periodic Review, and the status of the country in relation to UN Charter-based bodies and Treaty bodies.

The UN Universal Human Rights Index provides access to country-specific human rights information emanating from international human rights mechanisms in the United Nations system: the Treaty Bodies, the Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

Civil Society Reports 

Amnesty International Annual Country Reports

  • See the latest report for New Zealand

Human Rights Watch annual  World Reports 

Freedom House's Freedom in the World - an annual study of political rights and civil liberties

  • See the latest report on New Zealand

US Department of State Reports 

US Department of State annual Human Rights Reports 

  • See the latest report on New Zealand

Human Rights ranking in the Rule of Law Index

In the latest Rule of Law Index from the World Justice Project, New Zealand ranked 9th out of 102 countries for its adherence to protection of fundamental human rights. See the New Zealand statistics on the Rule of Law website. 

The factors taken into account in assessing New Zealand's human rights rank are those established under the Universal Declaration:

  • effective enforcement of laws that ensure equal protection; 
  • the right to life and security of the person;
  • due process of law and the rights of the accused;
  • freedom of opinion and expression;
  • freedom of belief and religion;
  • the right to privacy;
  • freedom of assembly and association; and
  • fundamental labor rights, including the right to collective bargaining, the prohibition of forced and child labor, and the elimination of discrimination.  

See the full Rule of Law Index for all countries here.


Journal Articles & Research Papers

Scholarly Articles 

To find scholarly journal articles on New Zealand human rights law, irrespective of the journals in which the articles are published, we recommend using:

  • The AGIS and New Zealand Collection databases on INFORMIT (UniMelb staff & student access) provides indexes and abstracts, and in many cases full text, of not only all New Zealand law journals and reviews, but to articles about New Zealand law in Australian journals. Coverage generally begins in the 1980s. AGIS is Australasian, so you will need to add 'new zealand' to your searches.
  • Index to Legal Periodicals (UniMelb staff & student access) provides indexes and abstracts, and in many cases full text, of not only all New Zealand law journals and reviews, but to articles about New Zealand law in worldwide journals. Coverage begins in the 1980s. The list of journals indexed and their coverage is here. As ILP is multijurisdictional, you will need to add 'New Zealand' to your searches.
  • SSRN (open access) is best for very recent articles because pre-publication versions and research papers are uploaded to this database. SSRN is multijurisdictional, so you will need to add 'New Zealand' to your searches.
  • New Zealand Legal Writing Index on Westlaw AU (UniMelb staff & student access). This resource indexes all major New Zealand law journals and university law reviews from vol 1 to current. The index began in 1933, so is the best place to find older articles. This NZWI contains no abstracts.

For more information on finding journal articles on New Zealand law, and for links to individual New Zealand legal journals, see the Journals tab in the New Zealand Law Research Guide.

Research Papers 

The New Zealand Centre for Human Rights Law, Policy and Practice Working Paper Series provides an online forum where scholars and practitioners can disseminate their research and practical experiences regarding human rights. The Working Paper Series is administered by the Centre based at the University of Auckland.

NZ Human Rights Blogs & News

Newsfeed from the NZ Human Rights Commission:

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