Safe Areas Bill ‘Poorly Drafted’, ‘Deeply Flawed’ – Legal Opinion
Media Release 27 April 2021
A legal opinion by a leading QC has labelled the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill as poorly drafted and deeply flawed, and says that Parliament should not pass it because it diminishes basic human rights.
Grant Illingworth QC questions in his opinion “where should the line be drawn (if at all) when the right of a person to be protected when accessing or providing health services comes into conflict with the right of others to express objection or dissent in the form of public protests?”
He argues that “reasonable clarity and certainty” are both lacking in the proposed bill, and that “a laudatory purpose does not justify a poorly drafted law that significantly diminishes basic human rights. In my respectful opinion, the provisions proposed in the [Bill] are deeply flawed and should not be accepted by Parliament.”
Regarding concerned individuals who hold up signs saying things like “Pregnancy Support”, Mr Illingworth says “Conduct of that kind is not unlawful under the law as it stands at present and, even if the Bill were to be enacted into law, it is difficult to see how such conduct could be prosecuted as an offence under the proposed provisions outlined above, so long as it was not accompanied by badgering, harassment, obstruction or intimidation.”
The legal opinion sounds the same alarms as the Law Commission who, when reporting on this issue in 2018, said: “The commission has not seen any clear evidence that the existing laws around intimidating and anti-social behaviour are inadequate, as would be required to justify the introduction of safe access zones… The Commission is also mindful that safe access zones would have to be considered for consistency with rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, such as the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association. For these reasons, the Commission does not suggest the introduction of safe access zones.”
Family First supports the comments made in Parliament by ACT Leader David Seymour who said last year, “[P]roponents of safe areas are mistakenly importing a narrative from America where those accessing abortion services are grossly harassed and obstructed… Such harm is not a common problem and can be adequately dealt with by current legislation, including the Summary Offences Act 1981 and the Trespass Act 1980. Safe areas are an impairment to freedom of expression and create a precedent for future restrictions. What’s more the impairment is so arbitrary and weakly justified that it could serve as a justification for almost any future impairment. … The creation of safe areas is bad law-making.”
“The Bill is an attempt to create a law without legitimate cause. In New Zealand, such a Bill can only be the result of selective ideology and not the consequence of evidentially declared need. Advocates like American activist Terri Bellamak from ALRANZ always quote extreme American examples in order to create some kind of fear in the New Zealand public’s mind. That is dishonest and is further evidence that the call for this bill is driven by the demand for ideological legislation,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.
“And how far will this type of law-making go? Will it prevent legitimate protests outside a gas industry conference or fossil fuel conference, a rodeo, or a political party conference? Supporters of this particular type of law should be careful what they wish for.”