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New law repeals outdated Crimes Act provisions

06 March 2019

Parliament has given a final reading to the Crimes Amendment Bill, with unanimous support. The new law repeals three outdated provisions of the Crimes Act 1961.

The new law will come into force the day after it receives the Royal assent.

The repealed provisions are the section 71(2) provision of immunity for spouses and civil union partners from prosecution as accessory after the fact, section 123 relating to blasphemous libel, and the section 162 year and a day rule.

Section 71 of the Crimes Act set out the essential elements of being an accessory after the fact. The definition in s71(2) provides that no person whose spouse or civil union partner has been a party to an offence can become an accessory after the fact to that offence. During the first reading of the bill, Justice Minister Andrew Little said that the retention of the spousal protection for accessory after the fact was anomalous and represented an outdated view of the nature of marriage which is no longer recognised by the law in other contexts. He added that the risk that some defendants may experience threats or intimidation by their spouse or partner to assist them evading justice doesn't justify a retention of this law. Section 24 of the Crimes Act protects people from criminal liability where they are under the threat of death or serious physical harm.

Blasphemous libel was last prosecuted (unsuccessfully) in New Zealand in 1922 in the case R v Glover [1922] NZLR 3; 24 GLR 185 (22 February 1922). The editor of Maoriland Worker, John Glover, was prosecuted for publishing an anti-war poem Stand-to: Good Friday Morning. The last three lines of the poem were in contention, “O Jesus, send me a wound today, And I’ll believe in your bread and wine, And get my bloody old sins washed white!” The jury returned with a ‘not guilty’ verdict.

The year and a day rule prevented prosecution for death caused more than a year and a day after the charge would be brought. A recent example is the death of 115 people following the collapse of the CTV Building during the February 2011 earthquakes.  The subsequent royal commission of inquiry concluded that there were basis design flaws in the engineering inquiry. One of the reasons that there could be no prosecution was the one year and one day law.

The new Act will allow prosecution of an alleged offender for an act or omission that results in death more than a year and a day later but will not apply to negligent acts dating before the law change.

Rustling provisions added

A SOP was added to the bill on 12 December 2018 which created two new offences to address livestock rustling. This amendment inserts a new section 220A (Theft of livestock and other animals) and s 231A (Entry onto agricultural land with the intent to commit imprisonable offence).

New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck expressed concern in a letter to the Minister of Justice that the new livestock rustling offences were progressed without the opportunity for public consultation. In the Law Society’s view the new offences should have been introduced via a new bill, rather that a SOP. Ms Beck said that the new offences are a significant extension of the current law and should have been the subject of public submission and debate.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019