8 Dec 2020

No legislative changes planned for hate crime in New Zealand

11:17 am on 8 December 2020

The government is not considering the introduction of specific hate crime laws, a move that's been called for by the Police Association and justice advocates.

Police generic

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

While hate speech legislation has been promised, and is expected to be announced after the release of the Royal Commission of Inquiry report later today, specific offences for more serious hate crimes will not be coming.

Police only started recording hate crimes last year, but figures show almost half are being wrongly downgraded from a criminal offence to something less serious.

Hate crimes are not part of New Zealand's current law.

Police now note when a hate crime has occurred; such as abuse, violence, threats, or intimidation against specific races, religions, nationalities, genders, sexualities or disabilities.

But there is no specific law for those acts.

They are dealt with under existing laws without further focus on the hate aspect of the offence.

Police Association president Chris Cahill says introducing new hate crime laws would be the the only way to accurately record those crimes.

"If we had particular laws then it would be much easier to record and identify problems," Cahill said.

"There needs to be some legislative change so that we've got particular offences, but then there does need to be better understanding by police about what actually identifies a hate crime so that it is accurate."

Community advocate Guled Mire is on the fence.

He said there was a lack of options for dealing with hate crimes but police need to take greater ownership of their institutional racism.

"The very fact that what was clearly, visibly, threatening messages that I had been receiving and reporting to the police, and for officers to tell me what was clearly threatening was just a matter of another person's opinion," Mire said.

"I understand that the current settings are limiting to a certain degree in terms of the options that the police have, but that doesn't mean that they can't do their job and actually do it well."

RNZ asked Justice Minister Kris Faafoi if legislative changes would be made to create specific offences for hate crimes.

His office said, for now, Faafoi would be closely monitoring how the police could improve its knowledge, awareness and recording practices to deal with hate crime complaints.

As for legislative changes, that would not be happening at the moment, although he left it open to be looked at down the track.

Mire said findings from the Royal Commission report must shape those potential legislative decisions.

"I was really heartened to hear that the minister wasn't completely ruling it out.

"I really do think there are serious limitations around our legislative settings around things like hate speech and hate crimes to ensure that we are adequately dealing with the harm that arises with both of those offences.

"It's a delicate balance."

Hate speech is going to be addressed by the government, as had been promised by the former Justice Minister Andrew Little.

New Zealand First had proved a stumbling block to any law changes during the last term in government, but with a majority, there are no roadblocks to legislative change.

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