Warning: This story contains disturbing content. Scroll to the end for helplines for mental health services.

The grounds outside Parliament have become a crime scene this evening after a man set himself on fire.

The man was in a critical condition after apparently setting himself alight outside the Parliament buildings just before 3.50pm.

Paramedics treated the man at the scene and he was taken to Wellington Hospital, where a spokeswoman confirmed about 6.20pm that he was still critical.

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Wellington police incident controller Senior Sergeant Glen Turner said security staff at Parliament were the first to respond.

"When police got here there was a person on fire. He has subsequently been put out. Unfortunately he is in a critical condition in hospital," he said.

"Police are appealing to members of the public and witnesses and other people that may have assisted."

Police are blocking all entrances to the grounds and a cordon is in place around the scene.

What appears to be a homemade protest sign inside the cordon looks to reference child custody issues.

Words that can be made out on the sign talk about the "issue" not being taking mothers away from children. It said to stop the "murdering of fathers".

But when asked about the sign, Turner said he could not confirm there was one, and that police were still collecting evidence.

Watch the police media briefing here:

The Wellington Free Ambulance received multiple calls at 3.50pm, an ambulance spokesman said.

Police, fire and ambulance all attended on the forecourt at Parliament grounds.

Police were still collecting evidence at the scene and would review Parliament's security footage as part of inquiries, Turner said.

Anyone who has footage of the incident should contact police.

"We are treating the scene as a crime scene which is standard procedure."

Turner said police had not established the man's identity or his nationality.

"At this stage it's too early to say exactly what he was doing," he said.

Police would look at the man's movements and what he was doing before he arrived at Parliament.

Turner said the incident was "highly unusual and very unfortunate".

Emergency services outside Parliament this afternoon. Photo / Marty Melville
Emergency services outside Parliament this afternoon. Photo / Marty Melville
Emergency services responded to the incident outside Parliament. Photo / Marty Melville
Emergency services responded to the incident outside Parliament. Photo / Marty Melville

Newstalk ZB political editor Barry Soper said the man was a regular protester at Parliament and was well-known to security.

Extra security staff had recently been hired for Parliament, he said, but there was nothing to stop anybody coming onto the building's forecourt.

Wellingtonian Matt Weldon-Smith said over the last two days when he left work in the late afternoon he had seen the man protesting outside the Court of Appeal on the corner of Molesworth St.

"He hasn't been ranting or raving or anything - just silently holding a sign there."

He believed the sign was the same one that was visible on Parliament's forecourt this afternoon.

"I read the sign, it doesn't really make a lot of sense to be honest. Obviously he had some sort of problem with the Family Court situation there but I couldn't make head or tail of the sign."

Weldon-Smith said earlier in the week the man had also carried a sign saying that in Iraq or Iran "they stone women, in NZ they stone men".

He said the man appeared European and aged in his 50s or 60s.

Emergency services are at the scene outside Parliament. Photo / Frances Cook
Emergency services are at the scene outside Parliament. Photo / Frances Cook
A cordon has been set up around the scene at Parliament. Photo / Frances Cook
A cordon has been set up around the scene at Parliament. Photo / Frances Cook

Access restrictions around Parliament are in place and people have been advised to exit via the back of the building.

MPs and parliamentary staff were still being allowed into the building but members of the public were not.

"When leaving the precinct you will need to exit to the rear of the buildings," said a notice from Parliamentary Services. People with cars in the underground carpark will need to exit via Museum Street."

WHERE TO GET HELP:

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757