Organisers didn't have much choice when they postponed the Matariki fireworks because of a whale gracing the capital's harbour.

The Marine Mammals Protection Regulations state that "no person shall make any loud or disturbing noise near whales".

The maximum penalty under the act is a $10,000 fine.

Wellington-based barrister and legal commentator Graeme Edgeler has taken a look at some of New Zealand's other odd laws.


Quarrelsome Māori

The Māori Community Development Act contains criminal offences that can only be committed by people who are Māori – like refusing to leave licenced premises when told to do so by a Māori warden.

It also allows a Māori Warden to order a publican to refuse to serve alcohol to Māori likely to be become quarrelsome, and to take the car keys of Māori drivers. There are fines of up to 10 pounds.

The act also forbids alcohol at gatherings of Māori. For some gatherings, you can get a licence from a local Māori Committee, but if the gathering is for the purposes of a dance, then forget it, no licence can be obtained.

Before New Zealand hosted the 2011 Rugby World Cup, police and Wellington City Council indicated they were considering deploying Māori Wardens on the streets during the event. Bar owners were sent letters reminding them of the wardens' powers.

Richie McCaw during the final match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France in the Rugby World Cup 2011. Photo / Greg Bowker
Richie McCaw during the final match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France in the Rugby World Cup 2011. Photo / Greg Bowker

Some said they feared Māori would be targeted and Prime Minister John Key called the law "a bit racist".

Moves to update this law have been delayed by concern for the role and mana of Māori Wardens, who are covered by the law, which resulted in a Waitangi Tribunal Inquiry.

No questions asked

Missing your cat, or your wallet? Don't advertise a reward for the return of lost or stolen property "No questions asked".

There's a fine of up to $200.


Weird maximum sentences

All sorts of books are banned in New Zealand – some temporarily, like Into the River – and others permanently.

The Everything Marijuana Book was banned in 2013 because it encourages the commission of crime.

But changes to our censorship laws mean than possession of an objectionable publication – which was a fine-only offence as recently as 2005 – is now punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

So now, possession of the Everything Marijuana Book is an offence carrying a higher maximum sentence than actually growing and selling cannabis.

One rule for Protestants

Any New Zealander who has a firearms licence will know the strict process for obtaining one.

Police will visit your house, and those of your referees and ask why you want a firearm.

You can say hunting, or you can say sport shooting, but if you say self-defence, police are probably going to deny you a licence. Self-defence isn't a reason to have a firearm in New Zealand.

A southern right whale putting on a show while frolicking in Wellington Harbour a few hundreds metres off the Interislander ferry terminal. Photo / Mark Mitchell
A southern right whale putting on a show while frolicking in Wellington Harbour a few hundreds metres off the Interislander ferry terminal. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Except this isn't quite true. Under the Bill of Rights 1688, and English law that Parliament has declared is still in force in New Zealand, "Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions".

Catholics are out of luck, however.


There is only one prosecution on record for blasphemous libel - the 1921 publication of a poem by noted British war poet Siegfried Sassoon in The Maoriland Worker.

The alleged blasphemy was the closing lines of the poem "Stand To: Good Friday Morn", which read: O Jesus, send me a wound to-day, And I'll believe in Your bread and wine, And get my bloody old sins washed white!.

John Glover, the newspaper's publisher, was acquitted, but the jury recommended that such publications should be discouraged.

New Zealand repealed criminal libel in 1992, and Parliament is currently considering a law to repeal blasphemous libel.

Killing by influence on the mind

Having a law against homicide is sensible, but one of the exceptions is odd.

You are not responsible for a death – either murder, or manslaughter – if your actions "influence the mind alone" of the person (unless they're sick, or a child).

Some uses of this are clear: how would you defend a charge that you were a mystic who had killed someone by placing a curse on them?

But a Canadian man used an identical section in Canadian law to escape a manslaughter conviction where a heart attack was brought on by stress during an attempted burglary.

Outdated costs

The maximum fine for failing to file the annual accounts of an incorporated society is still one shilling a day.

No nukes

There are still lots of unused laws, which still make sense. No one has ever been charged with possession of a nuclear weapon, but it's probably a good idea it's illegal.

Good riddance

In online lists of stupid laws, New Zealand is usually represented by a claim that there's a law that bans the carriage of roosters in hot-air balloons. There isn't.

Compared to other countries, New Zealand is pretty good at updating its laws, and we've gotten rid of some weird ones.

The Summary Offences Act replaced the old Police Offences Act in 1981.

It got rid of a lot of offences around annoying kite-flying, malicious bell-ringing and using dogs or goats to drive vehicles.

And when Parliament allowed same-sex marriage, it took the opportunity to repeal the section of the Marriage Act that made it an offence to impugn the validity of a lawful marriage, or to accuse the children of a lawful marriage of being illegitimate (that seems to have been a holdover anti-Catholic measure).

In 2017, New Zealand passed the Statutes Repeal Bill which removed 132 outdated or unused laws from the statutes books.

It still bans associating with convicted thieves, however. The Law Commission has recommended that should go.

Graeme Edgeler is a barrister and legal commentator.