New Zealand courts are going to be given more clout to make Parliament rethink some laws under changes agreed by Cabinet.

If the courts declare a law to be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act 1990, Parliament will be required to reviewed that particular law.

For example, if the changes were in place already, the law which bans prisoners from voting could be declared as inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act and Parliament would be forced to review the law it passed in 2010.

It would not be required to actually change the law - but that could be the subject of a future change for those who have campaigned for years to give the Bill of Rights Act more teeth.


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the changes will not change the ultimate sovereignty of Parliament because it would not be forced to change laws.

The case of the voting ban is before the courts at present but the main issue is whether or not the court can make a declaration of inconsistency.

The courts have done so, but the Crown appealed and the case is set down to be heard by the Supreme Court next month.

There is no suggestion at this stage that the Crown will withdraw that appeal, despite the Cabinet's decision to confirm a statutory right to declare inconsistency.

Attorney-General David Parker said the courts would not be able to strike down statutory law and Parliament would retain its sovereignty.

"After reconsideration, Parliament could amend, repeal of stick with the law as originally passed."

The change is in line with Green Party policy, not Labour policy, but has found favour with the Labour and New Zealand First coalition Cabinet in principle.

Greens leader James Shaw said the change would go a long way towards enacting longstanding Green Party policy the Government should be bound by the Bill of Rights Act.

"As lawmakers, human rights should be at the forefront of our minds at all times," he said. "It's good to know that regardless of what any parliamentarians of the day may bring into law, there is now a mechanism in place to review those laws if they're deemed to breach New Zealanders' rights."

The Bill of Rights Act 1990 sets out the rights and freedoms of New Zealand citizens. Under the act, the Attorney-General must point out whether any bill before the House is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act, but even if it is, it cannot stop it proceeding. The proposed changes will not alter that.