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The Bill Of Rights And Religious Freedom

Tangling With Taniwha: The Bill Of Rights And Religious Freedom

Still struggling to untangle the legal status of Taniwha? Or work out how much protection the law offers to the religious and cultural beliefs of Maori and other minority groups?

A new book on New Zealand's Bill of Rights may have the answers. Launched this month at The University of Auckland, The New Zealand Bill of Rights is the most comprehensive treatise ever written on the legal protection of rights and freedoms under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Aimed at lawyers, judges, policymakers, law students and academics, The New Zealand Bill of Rights provides an in-depth examination of the 1990 Act, covering such topics as the benefits and burdens of rights; principles of interpretation; impact on legislation and the legislative process; judicial review; civil and political rights; the rights of persons subjected to criminal investigation and prosecution; trial procedures; powers of law enforcement; and remedies for breach.

The book was authored by Paul Rishworth and Scott Optican - of The University of Auckland Faculty of Law - Grant Huscroft (The University of Western Ontario Faculty of Law) and Richard Mahoney (The University of Otago School of Law). It was praised at its May 14 launch by Auckland University Dean of Law, Professor Julie Maxton - and by Justice David Baragwanath of the High Court at Auckland.

In a recent article written for The University of Auckland's Ingenio magazine, Rishworth and Optican suggest that many New Zealanders are either unaware of the existence of a comprehensive Bill of Rights or underestimate its potential impact on society.

"The Act may not give judges the power to strike down laws passed by Parliament and held to violate constitutional norms, but it does set out important rights and freedoms" say the authors.

Examples of these include freedom of speech, freedom from unreasonable police search and seizure, and freedom from unwarranted discrimination.

According to Rishworth and Optican, "These rights are every bit as significant as the rights guarded by constitutional laws in Canada and the United States. They have a considerable impact on lawmaking here and the ways our laws are interpreted and enforced".

For example, sections 13 and 15 of the Bill Rights affirm protection for freedom of religion and the practice of religious worship. These provisions, still underdeveloped in New Zealand law, can help to decide how Maori spiritual beliefs are to be accommodated in public life. Similarly, where determinations affect the religious or cultural practices of Maori - or other ethnic or religious groups - sections 13 and 15 could impact development decisions made under the Resource Management Act 1991.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights is published by Oxford University Press and will be marketed nationally in New Zealand and worldwide. It is described by the publisher as "a valuable treatise for anyone interested in the legal protection of rights and freedoms in New Zealand today".

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