Know Your Legal Rights
28th June 2018
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In New Zealand, the rights of individuals are protected by a wide range of laws. These laws cover problems you may have with government organisations, private businesses or with other individuals.
If something happens that you feel is against your rights, there is usually a way to complain.
A comprehensive list covering many of the dispute resolution and investigation agencies you can contact is available online.
The Bill of Rights
New Zealand has a Bill of Rights that puts limits on what people in government, the judiciary, the police, state-owned enterprises and local authorities can do. The Bill protects your:
- life and security rights
- democratic and civil rights
- non-discrimination and minority rights
- search, arrest and detention rights
- criminal procedure rights
- justice rights
For more information, including what to do if your rights have been breached, there’s a special section in the Community Law legal reference manual, available online.
Police and legal rights
For an overview of your rights when dealing with the Police, check our Police page.
New Zealand also has a Human Rights Act. It protects everyone in New Zealand from discrimination - being treated unfairly or less favourably than someone else who is in the same, or similar, situation as you.
Under the Act, you cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of:
- being male or female
- being married or not, or having a family or not
- your religious or ethical beliefs
- your colour, race, ethnic origin or which country you come from
- having a disability
- your age
- your political opinions
- your employment status
- your sexual orientation
The Act also bans sexual and racial harassment, and inciting racial disharmony.
The government organisation that protects human rights in New Zealand is the Human Rights Commission.
Rights of children and young people
Children and young people up to the age of 17 years have special rights which are covered by a range of different laws.
These laws protect the rights of children, and define those rights; for example, to be involved in decisions about their welfare, the principles of children’s rights and parental control, the minimum ages of entitlement and legal responsibility, young people and alcohol, and when children can legally live away from their home.
THE LAW - Smacking
Smacking children or using physical force to discipline children is illegal in New Zealand.
The legal reference manual prepared by Community Law has a chapter on the rights of children and young people.
Your rights in the health system
People using New Zealand’s health and disability services are protected by the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights.
The Code applies to a wide range of treatments from both public and private providers. It covers practitioners of all types, including alternative or complementary medicine practitioners.
Under the Code, people using health or disability services have a right to:
- fair treatment
- dignity and independence
- services of a proper standard
- effective communication
- full information
- make informed choices and give informed consent
- have a support person with them
- access the Code when participating in teaching and research
- make complaints
Community Law’s legal reference manual has a chapter with full details of the Code. This chapter also covers the privacy of your health information and mental health treatment.
If English is not your first language, the website of the Health and Disability Commissioner has information in 21 other languages.
New Zealand’s Privacy Act protects your personal information.
There are restrictions on how government and private organisations can store and use your information - the Act sets out what is and what is not an ‘appropriate’ use of your details.
Individuals have the right to understand who holds their information, and the right to review that information.
More about Privacy is available on the website of the Privacy Commissioner.
Everyone who works in New Zealand has the same basic rights in the workplace, regardless of what work you do or what position you hold.
For more information, visit our employment rights page.
New Zealand has laws to protect you from misleading advertising, faulty goods, poor workmanship, unfair trading and other problems you might meet as a consumer. More information is available from the Ministry of Consumer Affairs.
HOT TIP - Keep the paperwork
Always keep receipts, quotations and estimates, copies of agreements and similar documents (LifeLot members can scan and upload copies of important documents straight into their personal account). They can be a great help if you have a problem later on.
Broadcasting and advertising
New Zealand has a Broadcasting Act with Codes and 'standards' that outline what is required of broadcasters when they broadcast programmes in New Zealand.
While the standards differ slightly between what you listen to, read, or view, the things you can complain about are good taste and decency, law and order, privacy, balance, accuracy, fairness, discrimination and denigration, responsible programming, children's interests, violence, liquor promotion.
Advertising in New Zealand is monitored by an industry body, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ASA checks that advertising complies with the law, is truthful, not misleading or deceptive and is socially responsible.
You can complain to the ASA if you think advertising you see or hear breaches any of its Codes. These cover alcohol, children, children’s food, comparisons, environmental, ethics, financial, food, gaming, people, therapeutic products, therapeutic services, vehicles and weight management.
See the Advertising Standards Authority website for more information.
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