Blasphemous libel law repealed

  • Hon Andrew Little

The archaic blasphemous libel offence will be repealed following the passing of the Crimes Amendment Bill today, says Justice Minister Andrew Little.

“The offence of blasphemous libel has not been prosecuted in New Zealand since 1922, and raises potential Bill of Rights Act concerns. This obsolete provision has no place in a modern society which protects freedom of expression,” says Andrew Little.

“To maintain public confidence in the law, the criminal code should be relevant to modern society. No prosecutions for blasphemy have occurred in New Zealand for almost a century, and even in that case the jury returned a not guilty verdict.

“This is a law that simply does not apply in the modern context. The last time a blasphemous libel case was considered, in 1998, the Solicitor-General rejected a call to commence a criminal prosecution under the law. The view was expressed that it would be inconsistent with the freedom of expression as protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

“The continued existence of this offence on the statute books was out of place with New Zealand’s position as a bastion of human rights, including recognising freedom of expression and religious tolerance for all faiths.

“I acknowledge the work on this area of the law by Angie Warren-Clark who had a Member's Bill repealing the same section,” says Andrew Little.

The Crimes Amendment Bill also repeals the historic ‘year and a day rule’ and spousal immunity for people who help their spouse or civil union partner evade the law as an accessory after the fact, as well as introduces two new offences for livestock rustling.