3 Apr 2019

Current hate speech law 'very narrow' - Justice Minister Andrew Little

1:15 pm on 3 April 2019

Justice Minister Andrew Little says gaps exist in current laws around hate speech and what should be considered an offence.

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Justice Minister Andrew Little said a review of the Human Rights Act was already scheduled for later this year. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

In the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks, the government has been urgently reviewing the country's hate speech laws.

Mr Little announced on Saturday that he was fast-tracking the review, which could see hate crimes made a new legal offence.

Mr Little told Morning Report today the current law specific to hate speech offences was "very narrow".

"It applies to inciting racial disharmony, it doesn't relate to expressions that incite discrimination on religious grounds or identity or a range of other grounds."

"If you look at the Harmful Digital Communications Act, which is the other law we have dealing with what we might describe as hate speech, it's very thorough but the question is whether the processes that are available under that legislation are as accessible and as good as they might be, so there's grounds to review both those areas," he said.

On who is covered under current law, Mr Little said: "If your hateful expressions and hateful actions are directed at somebody's religion, or other prohibited grounds of discrimination other than race then actually it doesn't cover that, there's no offence at that point."

He said you could potentially lay a complaint for mediation with the Human Rights Commission, but that the most gross type of expression seen around the Christchurch terror attacks wouldn't be covered by it and that looked like there was a gap in the law.

He said the review would make clear whether the law does fit. He's not convinced it does, but said he'll leave it up to the experts doing the review.

Mr Little said the issue about where the line was drawn was the most difficult part of any law that constrains expression and speech.

"The reality is we know that there are forms of expression on social media and elsewhere that you can see at face value are totally unacceptable and not worthy of defence but then there are opinions and views that we might disagree with or might even find offensive but are legitimate contributions to debate."

Mr Little said any change to the law would need to be robustly debated.

National Party leader Simon Bridges supports a review, but has urged the government to be cautious about crossing the line and restricting free speech.

"I have no criticism of Little having a review of this, but where free speech line crosses into hateful incitement of violence is not easy. Let's see the review, let's look at it carefully, and let's have that conversation," he said on Monday.

ACT leader David Seymour has strongly opposed a law change arguing it would divide the country and pit groups against one other.

He told Morning Report on Monday that similar laws in Britain had gone so far that the government was considering adding men and women to protected groups that could be subject to hate crimes.

"You end up creating a lot of resentment that descends into farce and where you arrive is where we should be anyway - that all people have common humanity and inherent dignity.

"It actually is divisive to start singling out and saying this person should be subject to a crime and this person shouldn't be."

Mr Little said a review of the Human Rights Act was already scheduled for later this year, but he's asked for work on the hate speech laws to be accelerated.

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