20 Mar 2018

Outdated blasphemy law to be repealed

3:25 pm on 20 March 2018

New Zealand's archaic anti-blasphemy law is to be scrapped under the new government.

No caption

Photo: 123RF

Justice Minister Andrew Little introduced legislation on Monday to repeal the decades-old law.

Blasphemous libel is listed in the Crimes Act and comes with a punishment of up to a year in prison but has not been prosecuted since 1922 - and even then was unsuccessful.

Labour sought to repeal the law when in opposition last year, but National blocked its attempt, saying the public should first have a say.

The government's Crimes Amendment Bill will be considered by MPs later this year and people will have a chance to make submissions when it goes before a select committee.

Former prime minister Bill English - a practising Catholic - last year said the law was outdated and should be repealed.

The comments were echoed by the bishops of the New Zealand Anglican Church who said God did not need to be defended by a statute.

Attention was drawn to the legislation last year after news reports that British actor Stephen Fry was being investigated by Irish police on a complaint of blasphemy.

During a 2015 television interview, Mr Fry questioned why he should respect God when the world was so full of suffering.

"It's utterly, utterly evil ... why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?"

The police investigation was later dropped.

The Crimes Amendment Bill also scraps the "year-and-a-day" rule which police said prevented them from laying criminal charges over the CTV building collapse.

It also does away with a provision which granted immunity to people who helped their spouse to escape after arrest or to avoid conviction.

The bill says that creates an "anomaly" and is "inconsistent" with how spouses are generally treated under the law.