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 individuals.
If something happens that you feel is against your rights, there is usually a way to complain. There is a comprehensive list of dispute resolution and investigation agencies that you can contact online.
The Bill of Rights
New Zealand has a Bill of Rights that puts limits on what people in government, and people carrying out public functions ‑ 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 is a special section in the Community Law legal reference manual.
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, no one can discriminate against you on the grounds of:
- your age, sex (gender) or sexual orientation
- your marital or relationship status
- having a family or not
- being in a relationship with or related to a certain person
- your religious or ethical beliefs
- your colour, race, ethnicity or country of origin
- having any kind of disability, impairment or illness
- your political opinions
- your employment status.
The Act also bans sexual and racial harassment, and encouragement of racial disharmony.
The government organisation that protects human rights in New Zealand is the Human Rights Commission. You can contact them for help if you are facing discrimination. They use an interpreting service called Language Line, so you can talk in your own language.
Help if you face racism or other discrimination
If you face racism or other forms of discrimination, you can complain to the Human Rights Commission. They can help with advice and information. If necessary, they can work with the other party to resolve your complaint. Your case may go to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. They may award compensation if your feelings and dignity have been hurt.
Offences based on a person's race are known as "hate" crimes. You can report these to the Police.
Your rights in a relationship
Domestic or family violence is an important human rights issue, and it is against the law in New Zealand. This means anyone in a relationship has the right to:
- leave an abusive relationship
- ensure a safe environment for their children
- refuse to do something if they do not want to do it
- work and study, depending on immigration or citizenship status.
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:
- the right for children to be involved in decisions about their welfare
- the minimum age for various things children can be entitled to
- the age from when children can legally live away from their home.
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.
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 and where to get help, 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 Consumer Protection.
The Commerce Commission also has information in different languages including Māori, Samoan, Tongan, Chinese and Korean.
Keep the paperwork
Always keep receipts, quotes and estimates, copies of agreements and similar documents. They can be a great help if you have a problem later on.
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 during treatment
- 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 Health and Disability Commissioner website has information in over 40 other languages.
Rights to privacy and 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 why, and the right to review and correct that information.
There is more about Privacy on the Privacy Commissioner website.
Police and legal rights
For an overview of your rights when dealing with the police, check the Police page.
Broadcasting and advertising standards
New Zealand has a Broadcasting Act with Codes and standards that outline what is required of broadcasters when they broadcast programmes in New Zealand. The standards differ slightly depending on the format, eg radio, free-to-air tv, pay tv or election programme.
The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) monitors broadcasting standards and determines complaints. You can complain to the BSA if you think a programme breaches any of the following standards:
- good taste and decency
- programme information, eg classifications, broadcast times and warnings
- children's interests
- law and order
- discrimination and denigration (against sections of the community)
- balance and accuracy
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) monitors advertising in New Zealand. 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 breaches any of the advertising Codes. These cover:
- children and young people (including food and beverages)
- therapeutic and health products, services and treatments
- gaming and gambling
- financial advertising.
Ethics, people in advertising, food, comparatvie advertising and environmental claims are also covered until 1 February 2019.
See the ASA website for more information.