New Zealand Law Society - Adequacy of religious and belief exceptions queried

Adequacy of religious and belief exceptions queried

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The New Zealand Law Society has suggested an amendment to the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill to preserve the current statutory recognition that religious or cultural practices may justify an exemption from the general obligations of the Act.

The Law Society submission to Parliament’s Primary Production Select Committee noted that the bill preserves the longstanding statutory recognition that generally applicable animal welfare standards may need to accommodate particular religious or cultural practices.

The submission says s73 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 provides that the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee may “in exceptional circumstances” recommend minimum standards that do not fully meet the obligations in the Act.

One of the facts the committee must have regard to in making such recommendations is “the requirements of religious practices or cultural practices or both”. The Law Society says the bill would replace “exceptional circumstances” with “transitions and exemptions”.

However, the Law Society says it does not think the current drafting of the bill makes the distinction between transitions and exemptions sufficiently clear or workable.

“The role that exemptions (as opposed to transitions) are intended to play in protecting the right to manifest one’s religion or belief risks being undermined as a result.”

In particular, the requirement that a transition to a new practice not be “feasible” before an exemption can be considered would apply uncomfortably to a religious or cultural practice.

The Law Society recommends some limited amendments to the proposed provision. These are intended to clarify the intended distinction between transitions and exemptions and remove matters which might be inappropriate when applied to a religious or cultural practice. 

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