When developing policy proposals, consideration must be given to their consistency with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993 (the Acts). The key aim of these requirements is to ensure Ministers are aware of the implications of any inconsistency with the Acts 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). It is a mandatory requirement to consult the MoJ about policy proposals leading to legislation.
Cabinet papers should include a paragraph on the consistency of the proposals with the Acts under the heading “Human Rights Implications”, which:
- states the nature of any potential inconsistencies that have been identified (or states that there are none)
- notes the steps taken to address the issues, or
- includes information on any justifications for the policy infringing a right or freedom.
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.