Key Points:

A 68-year-old man with a severe arm injury has won the first round of his battle to get rehabilitation from ACC.

John Howard of Ohura was hurt in 1989 as a civilian working for the Army. The injury left him with severe nerve damage, suffering extreme pain and needing weekly compensation and vocational rehabilitation.

The weekly compensation stopped when he turned 65 but Mr Howard argued that the rehabilitation should continue because it discriminated against his right to work.

Yesterday a Human Rights Review Tribunal agreed, saying the section of accident compensation law used to make the decision was inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act.

Mr Howard said the ACC's decision was tantamount to saying older people had limited use - contrary to the Bill of Rights, which provided the right to freedom from discrimination.

"People are able to work for as long as they wish to in this country. Over-65s are being marginalised and not being able to participate in society, but 65 is very young today. I know friends that are working at 75, people that are still working at 82 - why shouldn't they? Once you're over 65 you're on the scrap heap."

He said it was symptomatic of a "niggardly" culture within ACC which counted every penny of the levy workers paid.

Human rights advocates say the decision is a milestone for constitutional law as it's the first time the tribunal has made a declaration of inconsistency since a 2001 amendment to the law allowed it to do so.

The tribunal said not providing the vocational component couldn't be "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society".

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan said the outcome was important as the country's population aged and commended Mr Howard for representing himself - something the legislation intended.

"It is absolutely people like Mr Howard who claim the rights and stand up and insist that they be respected that makes New Zealand a place where human rights are protected for everybody," she said.

"It's a message to ordinary New Zealanders the laws are there to protect you and not to be used against you."

ACC Minister Maryan Street is taking advice on the findings.

ACC chief executive Dr Jan White could not be contacted for comment last night.