New Zealand Law Society - Greater clarity required for Conversion Practices legislation

Greater clarity required for Conversion Practices legislation

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa has appeared before the Justice Select Committee, to express its support for the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill, and to recommend changes that will ensure better clarity on what the Bill seeks to prohibit.

Paul Rishworth QC and Chris Macklin, conveners of the Law Society’s Human Rights and Privacy, and Criminal Law Committees, appeared on behalf of the Law Society to recommend that the definition of ‘conversion practice’ be more clearly defined in the Bill.  

“It is important criminal offences are clear about the conduct that is prohibited. While this is difficult, and the Bill needs to cover a broad range of behaviours, it is important to be as clear as possible as to what constitutes a conversion practice and may lead to prosecution,” says Paul Rishworth. “It may be useful to look at examples of Australian legislation, which includes examples of the kind of practices that are covered.” 

The Law Society also recommended changes to ensure that individuals under the age of 18, or who lack capacity, are better protected. Clause 8 of the Bill requires that the person performing the conversion practice knows or is reckless as to whether the person receiving those practices is under 18 or lacks capacity. The Law Society has recommended that this becomes a ‘strict liability’ offence.  

This would require the person who performed the conversation practice to prove that they took reasonable steps to find out whether the individual was over 18 or had capacity.  

“Currently, clause 8 contains an evidential hurdle that may be too difficult to overcome in many cases, meaning the Bill may not achieve its intended protection of those who are under 18 years old or who lack capacity” Mr Macklin said. “Strict liability could address this hurdle”. 

The Law Society also made recommendations aimed at ensuring that expressions of opinion did not fall within the definition of ‘conversion practice.’