Call for human rights to be constitutionalised

04 July 2013

A recent symposium hosted by the Auckland Law School’s New Zealand Centre for Human Rights Law, Policy and Practice addressed the place of human rights in the New Zealand constitution. Policy makers, lawyers, academics and civil society groups gathered to consider if these are sufficiently protected by our current constitutional practice.

Dr Ranginui Walker, guest speaker and a member of the Constitutional Advisory Panel, explained the current constitutional conversation and its context in recent New Zealand history. Professor Paul Rishworth and John Hannan, formerly a lecturer in the Law School, supported the status quo, saying that human rights were well supported in our current framework. Professor Rishworth noted that the substance of the rights enjoyed by New Zealanders was as good as in countries with a much greater formal level of protections for rights, such as in the USA.

Ced Simpson, a leading NGO activist, suggested the question of whether we need additional protection for human rights should be explored by asking those whose rights might be compromised. He added that New Zealand has signed many more international documents that guarantee rights than are properly reflected in domestic law, and the opportunity should be taken to modify this. Various workshops conducted during the symposium brought suggestions of such additional rights.

Associate Professor Jennifer Curtin, Department of Political Studies, was the rapporteur for a workshop that concluded there was a good case for the better incorporation into New Zealand’s framework of the rights guaranteed at the international level by the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women. Other workshops considered the issue from the perspective of people with disabilities, of youth, and in the context of economic interests.

There were also debates about the mechanics of securing rights. Dr Wayne Mapp, now a Law Commissioner, expressed the view that there should be an expanded and consolidated Constitution Act. Royden Hindle, formerly the chair of the Human Rights Review Tribunal, suggested that there be a new Constitutional Court that would be able to rule on matters relating to human rights, and also on the Treaty of Waitangi.

Papers presented at the symposium will be submitted to the Constitutional Advisory Panel. Those wanting to learn more about the constitutional conversation, or to submit to the Panel, should visit www.ourconstitution.org.nz

Content supplied by Kris Gledhill, Director, NZ Centre for Human Rights, Law, Policy and Practice.