Proposed changes to hate crime and hate speech laws
The Government is proposing amendments to current hate speech and hate crime laws in the wake of the Royal Commission of Inquiry’s investigation into the Christchurch Mosque terror attacks, which occurred in March 2019.
In December 2020, the Royal Commission of Inquiry made 44 recommendations, which included repealing hate speech offences in the Human Rights Act 1993 and inserting them into the Crimes Act 1981 and the Summary Offences Act 1981. This would allow people to be charged with hate motivated offences as a standalone offence. Currently in New Zealand, hate speech and hate crime is not a standalone offence and instead, offenders can have their sentence lengthened if they are convicted of a crime that had a hateful motivation.
The Commission found significant gaps in current legislation for dealing with hate speech and hate crimes and recommended that legislation relating to hate speech and hate crime should be fit for purpose. Further recommendations by the Commission included expanding hate speech to encompass rainbow communities, religious minorities, age and disability – alongside the current racial, ethnic and national origin grounds. The Commission found that the current legislation did not appropriately capture the culpability of hate motivated offences, nor did it provide workable methods to deal with hate speech.
The Bill of Rights Act 1990 provides that every person has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form. This right is limited only by such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. However, one person’s view of “reasonable limits” may be vastly different to that of another person’s view, hence the proposal to encompass a wider scope of offences with narrower language, in order to provide clarity on what exactly is meant by hate speech.
Enforcement of the proposed offences would carry higher penalties than what is currently provided for. These include raising the maximum prison sentence from three months to three years and the minimum fine from $7,000.00 to $50,000.00.
The proposed changes have been met with intense scrutiny by opposition parties and various experts in the human rights field. The regulation of hate speech will likely be controversial, given the fine line between real hatred motivated crimes and speech and that of stupid or reckless speech, particularly that which takes place online. Either way, it will be interesting for New Zealand to see how these proposals take shape and potentially influence the way in which we live and co-exist in our multi-cultural nation.